45th Annual Hash Bash advocates for marijuana legalization on 2016 ballot

Sunday, April 3, 2016 - 9:47pm

Ann Arbor’s city limits filled with Hash Bash attendants Saturday who had traveled from across the state to participate in rallies advocating for lighter political drug restrictions and beyond.

The 45th iteration of the annual event was held at two different locations: the University of Michigan Diag and the Monroe Street Fair on Monroe Street, between Tappan and Oakland streets.

Hash Bash started as a grassroots movement in 1972, protesting the arrest of Ann Arbor social activist John Sinclair for his possession of two marijuana joints. The drug remains illegal in Michigan except for medicinal purposes. In Ann Arbor it is decriminalized, meaning consequences for possession are $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for a third offense, though it is still illegal on campus.

Speakers for this year’s event included Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) and actor Tommy Chong.

Despite temperatures dipping below freezing and snow, hundreds gathered to participate in a decades-old event.

Speeches largely centered around the beneficial attributes of marijuana, its long lasting effects on quality of life and the upcoming presidential election, with a large focus on advocating for marijuana legalization to be put on the statewide ballot in the presidential election. Irwin, who has been a proponent of legalization, proposed legislation for statewide legalization last year.

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Mazie Hyams/ Daily

Darren McCarty, a former Detroit Red Wings player, spoke to the crowd about his personal struggles with alcohol and pill addiction, saying marijuana was a safe and healthy way for him to rebalance his life.

“It is about education, and me standing up here, as a full blown alcoholic who has fought years and years that demon, pills," McCarty said. "Because when you play the game we play, the doctors will prescribe you anything to get you up, get you out there, and get you to bed, and that is no way to live. Through this plant, there is life.”

Chuck Foksel, an Ann Arbor resident and legalization activist who attended the event, has been working on collecting signatures for a petition to put marijuana to a statewide vote.

“I believe cannabis is something that is harmless, and something benign compared to things such as alcohol,” he said. “I believe it (legalization) could bring a large amount of much needed tax revenue to the state, while at the same time being one of the largest social justice issues of our time. We lock up so many people in a cage over a plant — it is ridiculous.”

For some, Saturday’s celebration represented more than just the fight for legalization of marijuana, but the success of peaceful protest. LSA sophomore Peter Dolan said he thought Saturday’s protest was tame compared to other campus events.

“Compared to a game day this is nothing,” he said. “No one is drunk or passed out; everyone seems very respectful. It is good that the University lets them put this on, and the people are able to do it in way that is not disruptive.”

According to Diane Brown, spokesperson for the University’s Department of Public Safety and Security, the event ended with only two arrest and few citations issued throughout the day. Last year, three arrests were made.

“Many people perceive it (Hash Bash) as a one-day amnesty against laws and anything is allowed because of the event. It is not,” she said. “Political laws hold and can be enforced, but safety is the most important for our officers.”