Hashing it out 

With Michigan in the marijuana spotlight, this year’s Hash Bash brings out the stars

Longtime organizer Adam Brooke won't be at the 41st Hash Bash this Saturday, but he will surely be in the hearts and minds of many as calls go out to end the prohibition against marijuana. 

Last year Brooke apologized to the crowd for getting busted. This year he won't be addressing the crowd because he is serving a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to two charges of possessing a firearm while committing a felony, and no contest to charges of delivery and/or manufacture of marijuana and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Brooke said the guns (one of them an antique) belonged to his wife, but due to a 1980s conviction for carrying a concealed weapon it was illegal for the firearms to be in his house. 

Marijuana activists consider Brooke a political prisoner targeted by police for his long-term activities in support of legalizing marijuana and his central role in organizing the Hash Bash for the past 20 years. 

"The real issue to me is changing the marijuana laws, that's what the Hash Bash is about in the long run, changing the law," says Charmie Gholson, co-emcee for the event and co-founder of Michigan Mothers Against Prohibition. "The focus of this Hash Bash is unity, and it's a celebration. We have guitarist Laith Al-Saadi, who is going to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' to kick things off, because this is our country too. We have every right to be afforded every bit of democracy that's given to anyone else. We have every right to petition to change the laws."

This year's Hash Bash will also feature the closest thing to a marijuana superstar there is in Steve D'Angelo, founder and president of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., billed as the world's largest marijuana dispensary. D'Angelo is also featured prominently in the Weed Wars television documentary about marijuana laws and how they are unevenly applied. He started out as an anti-war protester during the Vietnam era and later became an independent music promoter and theater manager. 

During the 1980s, he was impressed by the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which delved into the history of hemp and marijuana. After that, hemp and marijuana activism went hand-in-hand for D'Angelo, and he has been involved in medical cannabis efforts across the country. It's been a long road.

"I've been doing this for 40 years," D'Angelo says. "The majority of the time handing out fliers at demonstrations that people didn't come to, and giving interviews for stories people didn't write. It's gratifying to me that we've come to a point where people are paying attention."

There's plenty of attention on marijuana, medical and otherwise, right now in Michigan. Last week a quartet of amendments "clarifying" the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act moved out of the state House Judiciary Committee and will now be considered by the full House. The bills address subjects such as a "bona fide" doctor-patient relationship for medical marijuana recommendations, photo registration cards for patients and the definition of a closed, locked facility. Marijuana activists generally consider these tweaks to the law as eating away at the rights of patients and making access to legal medication more difficult. Also, last week the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case of Compassionate Apothecary in Mount Pleasant, which was busted for distributing marijuana. Last year, an appeals court decision in the case ruled that registered patients cannot sell marijuana to other registered patients — causing many dispensaries statewide to shut down. 

There's also plenty of action on the pro-marijuana side of things. The biggest is probably the Committee for a Safer Michigan petition drive to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adults on the fall ballot. There are also several Lowest Law Enforcement Priority ordinances proposed across the state, which direct police to consider any other crime more important than marijuana possession offenses. Not to mention the decision on whether the question of legalizing marijuana in Detroit can go onto the next available ballot. The Court of Appeals already ruled that the Elections Commission had to allow the vote but the city could appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"I'm coming to the Hash Bash because the brothers and sisters in Michigan are in the front line of the war on cannabis," D'Angelo says. "They have my admiration and I salute them for the determination they've shown for pushing forward in the face of federal and state intimidation." 

Like other places where legalization initiatives have been launched, Michigan has seen some disagreements among activists who question the timing of the effort and the fear that legalization will undermine the medical marijuana gains and threaten its lucrative businesses. That split helped cause the defeat of California's Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana there in 2010, and the same issues have popped up in Washington state, where legalization is on the ballot this year.

"We are now a mature movement," D'Angelo says. "There are a lot of different personalities, and it's natural to have different strategies. People have real differences of opinion. We need to debate these strategies vigorously. Once debated, we need to unify and move forward in a united way. A terrible thing happened in California largely because of disunity in the cannabis industry. We can never allow that to happen again."

A new sort of cannabis industry blew up after the MMMA passed in November 2008. Dispensaries, grow supply stores, growing facilities, clinics and other support businesses cropped up across the state, and advocates claimed that thousands of jobs were created, not to mention work for carpenters and electricians setting up grow rooms. Then, led by state Attorney General Bill Schuette, prosecutors in many counties across Michigan began busting dispensaries and patients, successfully getting judges to deny card-carrying individuals the right to defend themselves using the MMMA. The effect has been tough on an industry that seemed to be prospering for a short while. D'Angelo sees that as a temporary setback.

"I think we're on the verge of victory," he says. "If you look at the long-term trends in polls, over the entire time you've seen two converging lines. The line against marijuana is moving downward; the other line, supporting marijuana, is moving upward. Those two lines just crossed. That trend line has never gone backwards at all. I believe it will continue moving in that direction. ... The only people deeply invested in moving this war on cannabis forward are the prosecutors. I think it's because they like the power that the war on cannabis has delivered into their hands. What we're seeing now is the last hurrah of prohibitionists, who know their days are numbered."

You can put that in your pipe and smoke it. Preferably at the Hash Bash.

More by Larry Gabriel

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