John Sinclair, whose arrest and subsequent 10-year prison sentence in 1970 for possession of two marijuana joints sparked the first Hash Bash in 1971, was present Saturday along with 6,000 others to celebrate the event”s 30th anniversary.
“Today is one of those days when it is good to be an American,” Sinclair said.
The main events of the day took place on the Diag from “high noon” until 1 p.m. during which several speakers, including Sinclair, addressed the audience assembled in front of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.
A major focus at the rally was on signing a petition to get the Personal Responsibility Amendment on the state ballot. The initiative is an attempt to legalize personal use of marijuana and to use funds currently being spent fighting drug use on education and treatment instead. Michigan state law mandates that for an initiative to end up on a ballot, petitioners must receive 300,711 signatures in 180 days, said attorney Gregory Schmid, author of the amendment and director of PRA Michigan, the group leading the petition drive. The signatures for the petition need to be obtained by Oct. 3.
After the event, Schmid said he was pleased with the turnout.
“It was quite a successful event for us,” he said. “We think we got about 8,000 signatures for the petition.”
While Hash Bash mostly draws visitors from outside Ann Arbor, students also came to take part or to just observe the crowd.
“I think it is pretty cool that they have this organized here. The speakers were pretty good and they were a lot more organized than last year,” LSA sophomore Todd Patterson said.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said the majority of the attendees of Hash Bash were from out of town.
“While I am sure University students were out milling around, they were far in the minority,” she said.
DPS arrested 22 people for marijuana possession, issued three tickets for sales and solicitation, and had one incident of alcohol possession in the Diag, Brown said.
“Of these 26 people, none of them were University students and only five were Ann Arbor residents,” she said. “That tallies up to arresting 150 people in three years only one person was a University student.”
Two people who were found in possession of marijuana were also arrested for resisting and obstructing police officers. During the rally, a 17-year-old Brighton man and 24-year-old Frankfort man fought with an officer as she attempted to arrest them for possession of marijuana.
“The officer and her partner went into the crowd after they had observed possession of marijuana, and then when trying to move the 17-year-old, he became combative and so did the 24-year-old,” Brown said.
Sinclair, the keynote speaker, spoke about the history of the fine system for being caught in possession of marijuana, but the majority of his speech focused on his belief that it is a First Amendment right to smoke marijuana.
“It”s wonderful to be out here in the open air exercising our First Amendment rights as Americans and also our rights under the Declaration of Independence to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.
Keith Strout, a marijuana reformer and the founder and national director of the National organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, stressed that Hash Bash is about more than marijuana.
“This is really about a personal freedom and with (the signatures), we are going to restore a personal freedom to the tens of millions of otherwise law abiding smokers of marijuana in this country,” Strout said.
LSA sophomore Erika Wilson said she was attending her second Hash Bash.
“I just came to see what was going on. The music is pretty good. Last year I was here for the rally and I think there was a better turnout,” Wilson said. “I think it is just people getting together for a common cause. I personally don”t think marijuana should be legalized but I support people gathering here to fight for a cause.”