45th Annual Hash Bash takes over downtown Ann Arbor

Hash Bash 2016

Hash Bash Rallies Crowd to Support MI Legalize Petition
Ken Wachsberger

Riots broke out at the 45th Annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, marring the event that is held every year on the first Saturday in April on the Diag at the University of Michigan. Rowdy supporters beat up peaceful protesters and claimed they were just standing their ground. Police expelled media from the crowd.

Oh, no, I’m sorry. I was thinking of a Trump rally. The Hash Bash was, as usual, a mellow multicultural blend of colors and generations. Scents floated softly through the crowd, estimated at 8,000, like they do every year that authorities don’t interfere. Even non-smokers enjoyed the pleasant benefits of second-hand smoke. Young entrepreneurs sold wares or just shared them—a small taste of the economic benefits and kind spirit that Michigan can reap from legal weed after November.

Up on stage, celebrated local and national activists connected to the crowd for two hours with shotgun presentations, three minutes apiece, that drew upon their own personal stories: lawyer defending medical marijuana patients, father struggling to care for his son, veterans suffering from PTSD, women in the industry, finding liberation from pharmaceuticals through cannabis, and more.

Every speaker called on registered voters in the crowd to stop by the MI Legalize tent and sign the historic MI Legalize ballot that will bring liberated cannabis to Michigan in November.

And then to vote. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

Funny, Serious, Compelling Stories

But first, attendees paid respect to the flag. Nick Zettell, assistant campaign manager with MI Legalize and a lead organizer of the rally, invited the crowd to turn and face the flag for the Star Spangled Banner. I turned and saw for the first time a white flag with a green marijuana leaf. The sound of Jimi Hendrix waking the children of Woodstock with his version of the noble anthem brought us to relaxed attention. A Stars and Stripes waved in the background.

Topping the billing, but speaking no longer than the others, was comedian and member of anyone’s marijuana hall of fame Tommy Chong. Applauding society in general for having come so far in our attitudes toward marijuana, and Ann Arbor in particular for leading the way, he credited the plant for saving his life after he was diagnosed with cancer. “It gave me an appetite for food, the munchies. Eating helped me recover from my operation.” While he was in the hospital, he said, he got to know another patient, a cigarette smoker who was there for lung cancer. He died two months later. “Marijuana is a great way to quit smoking cigarettes. Whenever you get the urge to smoke, light a joint.”

Darren McCarty—who was born on April 1, 1972, the day of the first Hash Bash—and Kim Cole shared the most compelling stories of the day. Everyone in Hockey Town has heard of Darren McCarty, the four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Redwings. It was his other story that he shared at the Hash Bash, about how marijuana saved him from alcoholism and pill addiction. The pain that goes with the life of a hockey player, he said, requires “pills to get up and to go to bed. Educate yourself.” He’s been clean six months.

Kim Cole, 43-year old University of Michigan graduate, was born with epilepsy. Seizures on both sides of her brain prevented her from ever being a candidate for surgery, so she was forced to take eleven medications multiple times a day in a desperate but futile search for relief from seizures, nausea, and pain. Not until she began taking medical cannabis three years ago was she able to reduce her medications over a three-month period. Now she is taking none and she is seizure-free. To make her point, she concluded, “I drove in from Flint to attend the Hash Bash and I didn’t worry.”

A Unified Message

Other speakers included

Jeff Hank, executive director of MI Legalize, said we’ve got two months to collect the signatures that we need. “State representatives are trying to change the law because we are so close to changing it ourselves. This is the year.”

Eric Gunnels, cannabis policy reformer, patient advocate, and talk-show host, said the system is set up to be changed. Register to vote.

Charmie Gholson, director of Michigan Moms United, noted that marijuana arrests have increased 17% since Michigan voters passed the medical marijuana act in 2008. “[Attorney General] Bill Schuette attacked the act and said it would be a problem with the law, then made sure that it was.” She condemned the military-style raids in homes and safe-access centers throughout the state. “Prosecutors are out of control.” Charging that raids risk child endangerment, animal endangerment, sexual harassment, and other forms of violence, she called on the state to stop the raids and repeal asset forfeiture laws.

Dr. Evan Litinas, chief medical officer at Om of Medicine in Ann Arbor, noted that patients who use medical cannabis for relief have shown a 64% decrease in opiate use and side effects.

Rick Thompson, board member of MI Legalize and Michigan NORML as well as editor of  the online journal Compassion Chronicles, organized a crowd-unifying social media burst when he inspired everyone to wave their cell phones over the crowd, take a picture, and post it to the Twitter feed  #hashbash. “Tag everyone you know. Flood them with posts. And vote.”

Rich Birkett, an early Hash Bash organizer who changed the date from April 1 to the first Saturday in April, sued the university twice when they attempted to shut it down and he won both times. “We in Michigan are about to legalize marijuana,” he predicted. “Back when, the university threatened student organizers with expulsion.”

DJ Short, world-famous cultivator and breeder, recounted that he had it forty years ago as a teenager, while helping to oust a criminal president and end a corrupt war. “People in their teens and twenties have power to change the world. Register to vote—makes them nervous.”

Larry Gabriel, author of the weekly cannabis column “Higher Ground,” in the Detroit Metro Times, noted that most prisoners incarcerated for drug use are black and brown people. “That will all change through legalizing,” he predicted, after people of color unite as a coalition movement.

Michael Komorn, attorney and president of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Association, noted that police make more arrests for prohibition crimes than any other crime except prostitution, and the laws are all based on lies. “Law enforcement and forfeiture laws need to be changed.”

Bobby Platshorn, Americas’ longest-serving marijuana prisoner and now director of the Silver Tour to win over seniors to the cause of marijuana legalization through the power of mass media, noted that there has been great progress in the last four years. “This could be the year. But don’t take it for granted and think you can’t lose because then you will.”

Adam Brook, long-time Hash Bash organizer and emcee who spent two years in prison for a weapons charge that grew out of a drug raid on his home, said we’ve “got lot of work to do. New people are coming to the cause every day.”

Ray Foust, mayor pro tem of Montrose, Michigan, and a user of medical marijuana since the sixties—although it wasn’t called that then, asked the question, “Are your local officials working for you?” and answered, “If not, replace them.”

John Sinclair, whose bust in 1969 and the successful worldwide campaign to free him led to the first Hash Bash in 1972, recalled that historic day as “just a bunch of hippies smoking joints on the Diag. No speeches.” He read a poem and laughed joyously.

Jim Flowers, founder of Parents for Compassion, told of his struggles to care for his seven-year old son who is a cannabis patient. The cannabis extract medication that his son takes is legal, he said, but the makers keep getting thrown in jail. “We’re mad as hell. We won’t take it anymore,” he cried out to the crowd.

Shea Gunther, who founded the first chapter of the student group Students for Sensible Drug Policy nineteen years ago in upstate New York, warned the crowd that the  second legalization, in our minds, goes from impossible to inevitable, we risk getting lazy.

Matt Abel, state director of Michigan NORML, noted that the Hash Bash started as a protest of the drug wars. “I can’t believe we have to still protest this shit,” he said. He urged the crowd to sign the petition and vote before June 1, when they will plan to file more than 260,000 valid signatures of registered Michigan voters. The state is playing games and threatening to not use the180-day rule regarding state signatures. Let’s get the job done.” According to the 180-day rule, signatures on petitions are generally considered “stale and void” if they were made more than 180 days before the petition was filed. The caveat: unless supporters of the initiative can show that the petitions signatures are valid. While this stipulation hasn’t yet been tested, MI Legalize supporters say that modern computer technology will make validation easy.

Jim Gierach, former executive board vice chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and author of LEAP’s call to end the “UN World War on Drugs,” reminded everyone that “progress comes because of activism here and around the world.” He commended President Obama for commuting the sentences of 248 people for drug crimes in the past month, an amount he said was “more than the last six presidents but not enough.”

Kyle Kushman, cultivation editor for High Times, focused his attention on personal growers, and on “legalization over commercialization.” “We were growing in closets and basements and garages before it was legal,” he said. “Don’t let corporatizing take over the right to be self-sufficient, grow your own, and share.”

Dan Skye, editor in chief for High Times, established his local roots, which included his parents meeting in Ann Arbor and the years he spent at the University of Michigan in the seventies. “I am appalled,” he said, “that government officials ignore the law while the police wage war. It’s time to end prohibition.”

Bernard Jocuns, founding member and chair of the new Marijuana Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, told the story of how he got a judge to drop the charges against his first medical marijuana client after the client showed up for trial with an I.V. in his arm.

Dori Edwards, a partner with Bloom City Club in Ann Arbor, as well as co-chair of Women Grow-Southeast Michigan chapter, recalled how women banned together in the twenties to end prohibition under the leadership of feminists like Pauline Sabin, founder of Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. “We need to do it again,” she cried. “Look at all politicians. Ask questions.” She urged women to join one of the Michigan Women Grow chapters in Grand Rapids, Detroit, or Ann Arbor and get involved.

Michael Tuffelmire, a veteran of the wars in Kosova and Iraq, called attention to the plight of veterans: “Michigan is 47th out of 50 in veterans’ unemployment and 46th in state spending for veterans. Between the ages of 19 and 25 they serve two deployments, then return home with PTSD. Cannabis helps.” His unit, he said, has had more deaths from suicide than they had from combat.

Jeff Irwin, state representative from Ann Arbor, called for an end to prohibition and envisioned a future Michigan like Colorado is today. “They have revenue for roads and schools. Police relations are better. Stores have opened. Citizens are not being abused.” He noted that Michigan spends $300 million a year to enforce drug laws. “Get to know your local representatives.”

Chuck Ream, a leader or funder of 25 marijuana legalization victories in 21 cities and founder of Safer Michigan Coalition, said that legalization has 61% support in the United States and yet we jail more people here than anywhere else; and most have never had trials. “We need to translate majority opinion into public policy. We got three million votes in 2008 for medical marijuana and they were ignored. We are the future, the potential. I will give up with my last breath and my people will carry on.”

Long-time cannabis activist Marvin Marvin, long-time cannabis activist, said he’s “tired of bullshit. It’s God’s plant.” He urged the audience to “Join the Party Party” and left the stage to cries of “Hemp Hemp Hooray!”

David Rudoi, attorney specializing in medical marijuana defense and co-founder of MI Legalize, said, “Cops put a gun to your head. It’s time to end that behavior.”

Vote in November

Cool winds gave way to heavy snow somewhere during the agenda. Participants began to move on to other adventures of the day. A hardcore crowd remained until the final speaker declared, “It’s our time” and, as every speaker before him had done, called on everyone to register to vote in November.

And then vote in November.

Ken Wachsberger, editor of Bloom Blog, is an author and founder of Azenphony Press Writing and Editing.

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