Festival organizers and local officials in Ann Arbor, Michigan are busy preparing for the 50th anniversary Hash Bash, a celebration of cannabis scheduled to return to the University of Michigan on April 2 after two years of virtual festivities.
Since 1972, pot enthusiasts and activists have taken to an open area on the UM campus known as the Diag to protest cannabis prohibition. 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.
The last two years, however, in-person festivities were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual events were held online instead. Now, with vaccines readily available and the pandemic appearing to be waning, Hash Bash will be returning to fill the air above the Diag with clouds of smoke once again.
It promises to be a welcome return for Ann Arbor businesses that provide goods and services to the happily high revelers. Frances Todoro-Hargreaves, executive director of the State Street District, said that Hash Bash is one of the best business days of the year for merchants in the downtown area, especially for restaurants and other food vendors.
“Anything that brings people downtown, especially a traditional thing like Hash Bash, is good for the community,” Todoro-Hargreaves told MLive.
Because Hash Bash takes place on the university campus, the city of Ann Arbor does not have jurisdiction over the event itself. 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. Attendees will also be encouraged to frequently use hand-washing stations placed throughout the festival area. In addition, free face masks and hand sanitizer will be available at the information booth and vendors will be required to provide hand sanitizer to customers and to have side walls between adjacent vending tents.
A 50-Year History
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. The inaugural event, dubbed the Hash Festival, saw about 150 activists gather on the Diag, according to a police estimate given to the Ann Arbor News. The newspaper reported that the festival was orderly, with no arrests and no obvious pot smoking.
“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.”
The account given by the campus newspaper the Michigan Daily, however, varied significantly. 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.
Over the years and with sales of recreational cannabis now legal in Michigan, the Hash Bash has become a celebration of all things cannabis. But organizers, speakers and events preserve the activist history of the festival. Democratic state Representative Yousef Rabhi, a frequent Hash Bash speaker, said in a social media post last week that he is working for continued 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 High Times. “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!”