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Ann Arbor Officials Prepare for 50th Anniversary Hash Bash

Ann Arbor officials and festival organizers are hard at work preparing for 50th Anniversary Hash Bash. This celebration of cannabis will return to University of Michigan, April 2, after having been virtualized over two years.

To protest the prohibition of cannabis, activists and pot fans have taken to the Diag on campus since 1972. And even with the legalization of recreational weed in Michigan in 2018, the event still serves to shine light on the nation’s failed cannabis policies. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused in-person celebrations to be cancelled for two years. Instead, virtual events were hosted online. With vaccines easily available, and the pandemic seeming to be diminishing, Hash Bash is set to return to the Diag to lighten the atmosphere with smoke.

Ann Arbor business owners who provide services and goods to happy revelers will be pleased to see the return of Hash Bash. Frances Todoro Hargreaves is the Executive Director of State Street District. She stated that Hash Bash has been one of the most successful business days in the city for downtown merchants, especially those selling food.

“Anything that brings people downtown, especially a traditional thing like Hash Bash, is good for the community,” Todoro-Hargreaves told MLive.

Ann Arbor has no jurisdiction because Hash Bash is held on the University campus. Nonetheless, city officials are busy preparing for next month’s return of the pro-cannabis festival, including making plans to suspend sidewalk occupancy permits and peddler licenses to ease congestion in the area surrounding the Diag. Debra Williams, the city’s special events coordinator, said in a memo to the city council that this year’s Hash Bash will include a four-point safety plan put in place by organizers to help keep people safe from COVID-19.

“The organizers had originally planned to have live bands, but will defer that activity for another year to try to prevent gathering in one place for prolonged periods of time to help ensure safety,” Williams wrote in the memo.

In addition to canceling live music performances, organizers will use signage to strongly urge people attending this year’s Hash Bash to wear masks and practice social distancing. The festival will encourage attendees to use the hand-washing stations located throughout the area. The information booth will have free hand-washing stations and hand masks. Vending vendors must also provide hand sanitizer for customers.

The 50-Year Story

Pot activists organized the first Hash Bash in April 1972 to celebrate a Michigan Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional the state’s felony cannabis law, which led to a 10-year prison sentence imposed on poet John Sinclair for possessing two joints. An estimated 150 activists gathered on the Diag for the first Hash Festival. Ann Arbor News. The paper reported that there was no evidence of pot smoking and arrests at the festival.

“We don’t know if it was a hash festival or not,” Police Chief Walter Krasny said at the time. “We didn’t find any great evidence that anything unusual was going on.”

According to the newspaper on campus, the following account was given: Michigan DailyHowever, the results varied greatly. Its report included a photograph of a “happy toker” and a headline that declared, “Cops stand by as kids get high.”

“Despite freezing temperatures, intermittent snow showers and the possibility of arrest, some 500 hardy souls ventured out to the diag yesterday for the First Annual Hash Festival,” wrote the Michigan Daily.

With recreational cannabis legalized in Michigan over the years, Hash Bash became a celebratory event celebrating cannabis. However, organizers and speakers keep the festival’s activist heritage alive. Yousef Rabhi is a Democratic State Representative and a regular Hash Bash speaker. He stated in a last week social media post that he was working to continue cannabis reform in Michigan.

“Despite the passage of Adult Use Cannabis laws in Michigan, marijuana is still legally listed as a schedule 1 substance in our state. Which means it is among the substances that carry the highest criminal penalties,” Rabhi wrote on Facebook. 

“This has a cascading impact that continues to criminalize cannabis in a number of settings and further perpetuates injustices. Yesterday, I introduced what I’m calling the ‘John Sinclair Act’ (HB 5877) to fully deschedule cannabis from the list of scheduled substances. There is no good reason for us to keep criminalizing a plant that is legal in our state.”

This year’s in-person Hash Bash, featuring a group smokeout on the Diag on 12 p.m. on April 2, will be the first since regulated, recreational sales began in Michigan in December 2019. Eric Franco, president of Michigan vertically integrated cannabis operator COMCO Wellness, says that the newly legal industry is ready to celebrate with the state’s cannabis enthusiasts.

“We are excited about the upcoming Hash Bash as it represents the coming together of people who believe in choice, in marihuana as a wellness product, and as a reflection of those individuals and groups who have long stood tall and proud in making this community one of strong voice, unity and justice,” Franco said in an email to Chronic News. “We are looking forward to being a part of the gathering at High Noon on April 2 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hash Bash Festival!”