Michigan Hash Bash Pushes for Cannabis Legalization
Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash marked its 46th annual celebration of cannabis culture, with public smoking, no arrests and an activist call to arms to get a legalization measure passed in Michigan this November.
The Hash Bash was a landmark counterculture event when it was launched at the University of Michigan on April 1, 1972. This year, organizers were openly hoping it would be the last one before cannabis is legalized in the Wolverine State — and urging a push to make it so.
Thousands turned out for the event on April 7, which was accompanied by an indoor “Hash Bash Cup” at an area hotel, the official website notes. And it wasn’t all scruffy hippies. Speakers included two Democratic candidates for Michigan governor — Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed — and a Democratic candidate for attorney general, Dana Nessel.
Unmistakable haze, scent hangs iver #hashbash pic.twitter.com/J5xXMychhX
— Kathy Gray (@michpoligal) April 7, 2018
All spoke in support of the legalization initiative that activists are trying to get on the state ballot in November. El-Sayed emphasized that once the ballot proposal is passed, the state should expunge the records of those charged and convicted of cannabis violations. “No one should be left with an arrest record,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The Free Press account noted the political diversity of the crowd — with at least one Trump supporter in a “Make America Great Again” cap. This was Jerome Bussell, manager of a medical marijuana dispensary in the town of Morenci. He told the Free Press: “I hope Trump defunds [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and the DOJ. He said he supported marijuana when he was trying to get elected. You kind of worry when you wear your Trump hat, but everybody’s cool.”
More reflective of the radical roots of Hash Bash was Adam Brook, a veteran organizer of the event. He exhorted that even if the initiative passes, the Hash Bash should live on as a gesture of defiance to the feds. “So next year, after they legalize pot in Michigan, come back with your friends, so we can say ‘F-you’ to the Man,” he said.
Jeff Hank, executive director of MiLegalize, one of the groups working for the ballot measure, said polling indicates 62 percent support for legalization.
“Most people assume this is going to pass at the polls, but we can’t be complacent,” he told the Free Press. “We have to get out and vote.”
In a similar spirit, the Bash’s current lead organizer Mark Passerini, co-founder of Ann Arbor’s Om of Medicine cannabis dispensary, told news site MLive: “This could very well be the last year we focus on state prohibition and next year we could re-focus toward the ills of federal policy. Federal policy still sees cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug in all forms.”
In a hopeful sign, there were no post busts at this year’s Hash Bash. MLive reported that there were two arrests, but not for marijuana. Police arrested a record 74 people at Hash Bash in 1999, and 56 in 2000. Only one person was arrested at last year’s Bash.
The Hash Bash started as an activist campaign to free John Sinclair, the counterculture legend who had been sentenced to 10 years under Michigan’s then-draconian pot laws for passing a joint to an undercover cop, according to the Lansing State Journal. Sinclair served two-and-a-half years before a judge ordered him released in December 1971, while the state’s marijuana law was up for review. Three days before his release, John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed at the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” on the Ann Arbor campus. Three months after that, the Michigan Supreme Court declared the state’s marijuana laws unconstitutional.
The 5th annual @a2hashbash in 1976. Today marks No. 47 on the #Diag. #AnnArbor #UMich #HashBash pic.twitter.com/B6mzRCPMg2
— U-M Heritage Project (@umheritage) April 7, 2018
Before a new law was passed, marijuana was technically completely legal in Michigan for three weeks. On April Fool’s Day of 1972, the last day before the new law took effect, activists called for a “hashish festival” at the University of Michigan — and the Hash Bash was born.
Later that same year, Ann Arbor pioneered the decriminalization movement, becoming the first city in the United States to implement a “traffic-ticket” marijuana ordinance — paving the way for other municipalities and eventually states to follow.
Meanwhile, even as activists aspire to a general statewide legalization, Michigan has unleashed a sweeping crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. In March, state authorities began issuing orders for dispensaries operating without licenses to close. These were outlets in a so-called “gray zone,” which had missed a Feb. 15 deadline for license application. A total of 208 dispensaries have now been shut down, according to WLUC-TV in the Upper Peninsula. They report that 215 dispensaries remain open in the state.
In an interesting contrast to Michigan’s Hash Bash, Denver’s upcoming 420 event is this year de-emphasizing politics and activism, with many considering the battle won now that Colorado has legalized. This example serves perhaps as a warning to Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash — that the event’s activist focus might fade if Michigan legalizes adult-use marijuana later this year.
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