If there is one event that places Ann
Arbor on the cultural map, it has to be Hash Bash. Every year,
around the beginning of April, men, women and even some children
gather to celebrate this unique event, listen to speakers and voice
their opposition to current marijuana laws. However, the state
government and the University have both tried to silence the
message of Hash Bash for the past 33 years. As a result, while Hash
Bash continues to be strong, government efforts threaten the
vitality of this Ann Arbor tradition.
Hash Bash’s beginnings were purely political. In 1966, a
man named John Sinclair was arrested after selling marijuana to an
undercover police officer. The law was stricter then, and the
penalty for mere possession could be 10 years in prison. Sinclair
was sentenced to nine. He appealed his case to higher courts, which
eventually ruled that Michigan’s marijuana laws were
Michigan passed new, more lenient, marijuana legislation that
took effect on April 1, 1972. That day, community activists,
students and Ann Arbor residents gathered on campus to celebrate
the new law. Ever since then, people have congregated on the first
weekend in April to show their support for marijuana
Traditionally, the Ann Arbor Police Department has taken limited
action against those who participate in Hash Bash — rarely
issuing citations, except when smokers become belligerent or
dangerous. Ann Arbor even has a special statute on marijuana, which
carries a trivial possession penalty when compared to state law.
Unfortunately for students, the Department of Public Safety not
only issues citations more frequently than the AAPD, it does so in
accordance with state law, which carries harsher punishments.
While possessing marijuana is currently a crime, it is a waste
of valuable University funds for DPS to hunt smokers on Hash Bash.
Issuing fines will not cause those who celebrate Hash Bash to
change their ways, and the resources spent enforcing marijuana laws
could be put to better use. DPS exists to promote and maintain the
safety of students and others on University property, not to
supplant Ann Arbor authority at the request of the state. People
should be free to smoke and possess marijuana as they choose, as
long as they do not harm public safety in so doing.
As a result of the DPS presence, Hash Bash has become smaller
and less community oriented. Many participants are not local
residents, but rather people who visit specifically for the
experience. The decrease in the popularity of Hash Bash threatens
to push it in the direction of the Naked Mile, which ended after a
University effort to eliminate it. Students and local marijuana
fans should work to restore Hash Bash to its former glory —
but should do it off-campus where DPS has no authority.