Aging hippies carrying signs of peace joined dreadlocked teenagers on the Diag Saturday to celebrate cannabis culture and protest marijuana laws in Ann Arbor’s 35th annual Hash Bash.
Despite a low student turnout at the rally, Hash Bash turned out ast least as many supporters of marijuana as last year, when about 900 came.
In years past, Hash Bash drew thousands of colorful people to Ann Arbor to gather in the aromatic, smoke-filled Diag. Recent years’ protests carried over to celebrations on Monroe Street, including this year.
Organizers and longtime bash attendees noted that Hash Bash has fizzled and changed face over the past few years.
“The crowd has been getting older every year,” said Bob Brown, who graduated from the University in 1970 and has attended every Hash Bash except one. “There were a lot more students back in the 70’s.”
As a man wearing an oversized cowboy hat and large star-shaped glasses played background music on an accordion, Josh Soper, director of the University’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, explained why students were largely absent from the rally.
“I think the students don’t come because it’s been dominated by people from out of town – older people, non-students – and it kind of has that image,” he said. “I think if we did more advertising on campus it would help, but it’s hard to get people to flyer.”
Dressed in floor-length dreadlocks and technicolor pants, a man who called himself Chef RA had a different take on why Hash Bash attendance has dwindled and why less students attend.
“The times have been more conservative in recent years,” said Chef RA, who is a chemist for the prominent cannabis magazine, High Times. “People are afraid of being associated with an event like this because they feel it is going to be detrimental to their job or they will be arrested by the heavy police presence.”
Event organizer Adam Brooks warned people of smoking on the Diag because of the heavier fines on University property and the heightened police presence.
At one point, he asked the crowd to sit suddenly to expose the police patrolling among the peaceful protestors, which they did.
Brooks explained that University crackdowns and an increased police presence since the deputizing of the Department of Public Safety have prevented Hash Bash from continuing to be a “smoke in.” Student organizations must register for a permit to hold the bash because the event is held on University property.
Supporters of marijuana law reform turned up to the rally to show their solidarity for repeal of what they claim are strict laws.
Kathy Kennedy, 56, said she is partially opposed to laws because of racial implications.
The first pot laws, she said, “were enacted in El Paso, Texas, mainly because they wanted to persecute non-white populations – to persecute Hispanics.”
After the rally, protestors marched to Monroe Street to continue the festivities. On the street – the closest off-campus area to the Diag – the penalty for smoking pot is only a $25 civil infraction. The on-campus penalty is a $100 dollar misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
The atmosphere of Monroe Street was more relaxed than the heavily policed Diag, with people passing joints and smoking small pipes openly. Groundscore, a band based in Holly, entertained the eclectic crowd with funky-feeling, jam-band style music while smokers wearing ponchos and leis made of pot leaves danced and mingled with the old and young revelers.
Amidst street vendors selling everything from colorful glass pipes to handmade Hash Bash stickers, Engineering freshman Fej Brandt pulled out his brand-new pipe and lit up in the middle of the street.
“It’s like ‘Shakedown Street’ at a concert,” he said, comparing the atmosphere to a busy avenue at a music festival. “Everyone just kind of bumming around and a little vending. You can pick up whatever.”
He added that the bash is “one of the things that made coming (to the University) sweet.”
Caught with pot
– Over the past seven years, DPS has arrested or issued citations to 212 Hash Bash attendees.
– Only four of the 212 were students.
– This year DPS arrested two and ticketed three for drug or alcohol violations.