Thirty-five years ago, students couldn’t RSVP to Hash Bash on Facebook.com – word-of-mouth and fliers were the only advertisements for the event. But the lack of easy, online publicity didn’t stop scores of students from gathering for the first-ever Hash Bash during the first weekend of April in 1972.
The first Hash Bash was held as a celebration after the success of the “Free John Now” campaign that arouse in response to the incarceration of political activist and Ann Arbor local, John Sinclair.
Sinclair was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the possession of two marijuana joints in July 1969.
He quickly became an icon of the counter-cluture movement and inspired a number of protests around the country.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono sponsored a Free John Now rally at Crisler Arena on Dec. 10, 1971. They argued that Sinclair’s incarceration had been cruel and unusual punishment and that Sinclair was convicted as a result of police entrapment.
Three days after the rally at Crisler Arena, Sinclair’s case was re-examined by the Michigan Supreme Court. He was released from prison on Dec. 13, 1971.
The first Hash Bash occurred three and a half months after Sinclair’s release from jail. The leaders of the 1960s counterculture, many of them students and young adults living in Ann Arbor, were prominent participants in the first Hash Bash.
The event included speeches, demonstrations in favor of marijuana legalization, music and street vending.
Police officers have often turned a blind eye to some of the drug use that typically accompanies the festival.
Over the years, student attendance at the =Hash Bash “High Noon” march on the Diag has waned. But enthusiasts and pro-marijuana advocates have continued holding the event in Ann Arbor partly because of its history and the city’s relatively lax marijuana laws.
In Ann Arbor (except on campus, which is under state law), possession of marijuana is a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense.
Organizers at the first event hoped it would become a tradition.
“The hash festival should become an annual affair, and we hope to see everybody out here again next year,” one organizer told The Michigan Daily at the time.
Thirty-five years later, the tradition is still alive.
– This article draws on sources from the Bentley Historical Library