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Hash Bash returns for another hit

BY VALIANT LOWITZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 5, 2009

High noon on the first Saturday in April means only one thing: Hash Bash.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Ann Arbor resident James William Middlestadt (right; aka. Rainbow Country Lovin') plays a didgeridoo and a drum while LSA sophomore Zachary Zeidner (bottom) plays a sitar on the Diag just after Hash Bash, Saturday, April 4, 2009.

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A smoky haze filled Monroe Street Saturday, as a mixture of old-time activists, University students, adult spectators and marijuana enthusiasts came together to support recreational marijuana use, oppose United States drug laws and enjoy an afternoon in the sun.

And this year, the mood was a little more celebratory than usual.

In its 37th year, Hash Bash had a significant reform to commemorate: the legalization of medical marijuana in the state of Michigan.

Proposal 1, which was passed by 63 percent of Michigan voters last November, legalized the possession of medical marijuana within the state for those with a doctor’s recommendation. The law took effect Saturday, the same day as the festivities.

Andrew Kent, president of the University’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — the event's primary organizer — said this year’s event attracted more students than he had ever seen during his three years at the University.

Between 1,500 and 1,600 people gathered on the Diag for the first half of the event according to Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. In 2006, an estimated 900 people turned out for the event, according to The Michigan Daily.

Kent attributed the increased turnout to wider acceptance of recreational drug use both on campus and across the country.

“I think that drug use is becoming much more normalized in our society,” Kent said. “People don’t really look down on you in the same way anymore.”

The event included speeches from Kent, Chris Chiles, the executive director of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and members of the Michigan chapter of NORML.

After the gathering on the Diag, supporters marched together to the annual Monroe Street Fair. The fair featured live music blaring from a stage in front of Dominick's and numerous street vendors selling everything from marijuana paraphernalia to T-shirts.

Mark Prichard, who said he was a member of an activist group called the Portage Progressives for Peace, said he has been attending Hash Bash for more than 30 years to “celebrate the passing of Michigan’s medical marijuana laws.”

Prichard said he first attended Hash Bash in 1975.

The annual event began in response to a March 9, 1972 Michigan Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional the drug law used to convict activist John Sinclair for possession of two marijuana joints.

That decision left the state of Michigan without laws prohibiting the use of marijuana for almost a month until a law was passed on Apr. 1, 1972.

Hash Bash is held every year on the first Saturday in April to commemorate the decision.