Activists have high hopes for tomorrow's Hash Bash

BY ADHIRAJ DUTT
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 2, 2004

Thousands of activists hoping to achieve the goal of legalizing
marijuana are set to descend on campus and the surrounding areas
this weekend to protest the nation’s war on drugs.

With the Federal Building on East Liberty Street serving as
their backdrop, the protesters will kick off the 33rd Ann Arbor
Hash Bash at 11 a.m. Saturday.

After an hour-long rally in front of the building, the activists
will march to campus, converging on the Diag where they will listen
to speakers including poet John Sinclair and Chef Ra, a columnist
at High Times, a magazine for marijuana connoisseurs. After one
hour of speeches, Hash Bash will move to Monroe Street for a block
party.

“This is the largest, most unadvertised event in America
and 50,000 people will show up for an event that isn’t
supported by the City Council, the Ann Arbor commerce bureau, the
University and so on down the line,” long-time organizer Adam
Brook said.

Beginning in 1972, Hash Bash’s popularity surged after the
University took organizers to court for several years to end it.
The media attention led to national exposure, Brook said.

“We do no advertising, but this time of the year I get
calls from newspapers all over the country doing their stories on
Hash Bash,” Brook said. “It’s a cultural
phenomenon.”

Hash Bash has drawn large crowds in the past, but participation
has waned recently partly due to less student involvement,
increased law enforcement efforts and in some years, bad
weather.

“The main problem is that they don’t get enough
serious speakers and there’s a real disconnect between the
student body and those who attend the event,” LSA senior Dan
Sheill said. “What’s interesting is this event is put
under the microscope more than any other event on
campus.”

A student organization must reserve the Diag to hold an event
there. Sheill was the student sponsor of Hash Bash last year as
chairman of the College Libertarians, but this year it is sponsored
by the University’s chapter of the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“In the past, the police haven’t allowed us to have
tables on the Diag, though we will this year,” Engineering
sophomore and NORML Director Josh Soper said. “We are going
to try to focus more on medical marijuana this year.”

Brook said after the University established the Department of
Public Safety 14 years ago, police officers began dispersing Hash
Bash participants from the Diag after their rally.

“In the old days, we used to spend the entire day on the
Diag,” Brook said.

The University doesn’t endorse Hash Bash, but because of
the huge influx of people drawn to the event, safety is among the
University’s top priorities. Also, because many of the people
that participate are avid marijuana users inclined to light up
during Hash Bash, DPS plans to have additional officers patrolling
campus, making sure marijuana users and non users obey state
laws.

“The (University Board of) Regents are granted their power
from the state and so we enforce state laws,” DPS spokeswoman
Diane Brown said.

As a result, the penalty for smoking marijuana on campus is a
$100 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail, though the penalty for
abusing the drug on city property is a $25 ticket for a civil
infraction. Anyone caught possessing marijuana on campus will be
fined up to $2,000 and can end up behind bars for up to one year,
Brown said.

However, these penalties don’t stop all marijuana fanatics
from lighting up at Hash Bash, Brook said. “It’s not
the smoking that gets you busted, it’s passing to your
buddies,” he said. “This is a political rally and we
smoke in an act of civil disobedience.”

According to Brown, there were six arrests and citations at last
year’s Hash Bash and in the past five years, 198 arrests have
been made at the event. Of the 198 people arrested, only two have
been University students.

Still, Brook said the crowds at Hash Bash are bigger, but less
rowdy than crowds that football games attract in fall. “(Hash
Bash) is worse than any football Saturday and we have less arrests
than a football Saturday,” he said.