Marijuana legalization advocates and pot enthusiasts gathered on the University of Michigan Diag Saturday for the 50th annual Hash Bash event. Thousands of people traveled to Ann Arbor for the multi-day festivities which kicked off with the Hash Bash Cup at the Wyndham Garden Hotel Friday afternoon and ended with a Saturday night afterparty at the Blind Pig featuring electric jazz band The Macpodz.
Hash Bash began on April 1, 1972 shortly after activist John Sinclair was released from prison after being convicted of the possession of two joints. The law used to convict Sinclair was declared unconstitutional by Michigan’s Supreme Court that year, and while the Michigan Legislature quickly created a new law in its place, it did not take effect until after April 1 — meaning marijuana was entirely legal in Michigan for a short period of time. The release of Sinclair, compounded with the brief absence of any laws prohibiting marijuana, led Ann Arbor residents to gather on the Diag in celebration. Since then, Hash Bash has become an annual tradition of street vending, live music and activism.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily prior to the event, Matt Dargay, Social Work student and President of the U-M chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, described the significance of activism to Hash Bash.
“Hash Bash is a pivotal part of the University and Ann Arbor community life,” Dargay said. “It’s really amazing that this rally has been going on since the 1970s when public opinion towards marijuana was far more hostile than it currently is. So it speaks to the progressive values of Ann Arbor, as well as the progressive values of the University in some ways.”
The event began shortly after noon with a rendition of the national anthem by “The Voice” finalist Laith Al-Saadi, followed by a series of speakers including community activists, legislators, law enforcement officials and students.
Mike McCurdy, Chair of the Michigan Cannabis Caucus, spoke on the injustice of cannabis convictions.
“We, the cannabis community, understand the injustice of mass incarceration and this goes beyond cannabis,” McCurdy said. “We have thousands and thousands of people incarcerated in this state who are no threat to society, and they must be released.”
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, also spoke about the importance of clearing the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses.
“Too many people are in jail,” Rabhi said. “And by the way, these are political prisoners. These are political prisoners, and we need to free them. We need to expunge criminal records. That’s why I introduced legislation for criminal record expungement that passed, and we’re moving forward; we need to make it stronger.”
U.S Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, then had a staffer read a statement in regards to cannabis legalization.
“This week, the House of Representatives took a major step in reforming federal laws around marijuana by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement, or MORE Act,” the statement read. “This bill would legalize adult recreational marijuana use at the federal level and remove it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. … This is a bipartisan issue. It is a moral responsibility to right the wrongs of our past and an economic opportunity to help our communities grow in a rapidly growing industry.”
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit emphasized the history of inequitable enforcement of drug policy.
“The criminalization of cannabis is part of our dark and counterproductive history of the war on drugs,” Savit said. “It has always been contrary to science, but it has also been highly inequitable.”
Savit, like Rabhi, also discussed the long-lasting impacts of convicting people for marijuana possession.
“There are too many people in this country who have criminal records as a result of old cannabis convictions,” Savit said. “That holds people back from housing, from jobs, from educational opportunities. It is unjust and it needs to end.”
Daily Staff Reporter Samantha Rich can be reached at email@example.com