There were googobs of people out at the 40th annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash on Saturday, the celebration of all things cannabis. One news report I saw put the number of revelers at 6,000. I'm not sure how that number was calculated, but I say there were googobs of people who defied the chilly weather and laws against the public and recreational use of marijuana.
"It was the most successful one we've had in the past 10 years," organizer and emcee Adam Brook told me after the bash. "There've been some years when the weather was bad that we didn't have very many people, but when the weather is good we've had up to 12,000 people out there."
When the first Hash Bash was celebrated on U-M's Diag in 1972, the vast majority of the crowd in attendance last week wasn't even born yet, and the concept of medical marijuana was just a twinkle in the eyes of activists. But one thing that connects the first bash with this year's is John Sinclair.
Some of you may know Sinclair as the guy who writes this column every other week. Back then, he was fresh out of state prison after serving two-and-a-half years of a 10-year sentence for selling two joints; the Michigan Supreme Court had ruled the state marijuana laws unconstitutional. Sinclair and other activists came up with the idea of an April 1 event to take advantage of a small gap of time when there was no marijuana law on the books in Michigan. The first and several subsequent Hash Bashes were pretty much parties. This year's Bash was mostly a political rally defending the medical marijuana laws, although there was some talk of out-and-out legalization.
Ann Arbor activist Chuck Ream said, "We are going to have major threats this year," refering to the radically different ways Michigan's medical marijuana law has been interpreted differently by activists, on one hand, and law enforcement officials, on the other. "Fight back. Dare to kick ass. When we think about patients, we know we have no option to fail."
There was a stream of speakers, each apparently allotted about two minutes; Brook kept the program moving along. Brook, who's been the main Bash organizer the past 20 years, addressed the recent bust at his home in Royal Oak. "I want to apologize," he said. "I got busted. I was breaking no law and they came after me. The motherfuckers came into my house and I wasn't even there."
On Feb. 22, Brook, a registered medical marijuana patient, was charged with eight felony counts after a January raid when police found a triple-beam scale (a traditional tool of dealers), marijuana (allegedly more than a pound, although the amount is in dispute) and marijuana candy, two loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun and a bulletproof vest, according to a police report. Brook has a former felony conviction and is not allowed to be around guns.
"They found my wife's guns," said Brook. "I was charged with seven gun crimes. They've dropped four of them already." Regardless of the legal cloud hanging over his head ("I expect to beat this," he told me), Brook handled his duties well. "We knew this would be big," Brook said.
The political rockstar of the event was New Mexico's former Republican Governor Gary Johnson, who said, "We need to legalize marijuana in this country. Ninety percent of the problem is prohibition-related, not use-related. ... 46 percent of Americans support legalization. We're two years away from a national tipping point."
Hmmm, that would be just after the next presidential election. During his introduction, Brook said that Johnson was running for president in that election. But, after the rally, Johnson played coy on the subject. When I asked him if he was really planning on running, he said, "Others are saying it." Then he went into some mumbo jumbo about fundraising and federal laws that essentially seemed to say that he's running but can't legally say that right now. "Sorry to cop out," he apologized.
"I've smoked marijuana in my life and drank alcohol," said Johnson. "I don't do either today, but I think that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol. It might be a bad choice, but the last thing that it is is criminal."
When in front of the crowd, Johnson only talked about marijuana and vaguely alluded to other issues. When I pressed him about those other issues he started talking about fiscal austerity and bad unions. I didn't get too far with that line of questioning. A young woman writing for a webzine came up and asked him a question about marijuana and walked away after his answer. She seemed taken by the fact that she was actually talking to a potential presidential candidate. (A bit of advice if she is reading: Work on your follow-up questions.) Then a guy with apparent communist tendencies came up and started screaming about Johnson's lack of class analysis. (Not a good approach if you actually want to be heard.)
However, the general vibe of the pro-marijuana crowd seems to be in support of anyone who'll let them smoke in peace. This is something that has concerned me about the medical marijuana and legalization movement. The political rhetoric has focused on that issue and doesn't seem to regard anything else as pertinent. There was muttering in the crowd against President Barack Obama because the DEA indeed has gone after some medical marijuana dispensaries after saying he would leave them alone. I heard one guy say, "I voted for him before, but I won't do it again." Be careful. There are those who will give you marijuana while nailing your backside to the wall in all sorts of other ways. If that's your only concern, well so be it.
In other political content: Marvin Marvin, a longtime local activist, announced that he plans to run for U.S. senator in the Democratic primary against incumbent Debbie Stabenow; there was discussion of a proposed ordinance that would set marijuana as the lowest priority for Kalamazoo police, and lots of rhetoric against state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
"That SOB is trying to shut our law down," said Tim Beck, who was one of the authors of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. Beck also announced that the Coalition for a Safer Detroit is making headway with its effort to put legalization before Detroit voters. A Wayne County Circuit Judge backed the Detroit Election Board on keeping the question off the ballot. Beck announced that Safer Detroit's appeal has been granted expedited status. "We are going to be on the ballot," he predicted.
After all the speeches, the crowd retired to the Monroe Street Fair for some serious toking. There had been marijuana smoke wafting in the air during the rally, but in some areas at the fair there was air wafting on the marijuana smoke. And the crowd was so dense you had to elbow your way through to get anywhere. There was rock and reggae, and there were street performers, dispensary tours (despite medical marijuana activists' avoidance of it, the D-word was liberally tossed about throughout the day), compassion club tables, spliffs of many shapes and sizes, and even some hash getting burned. About the only thing keeping it from being a great festival was the lack of food booths. But there were some in the crowd surreptitiously selling a variety of marijuana-laced edibles.
As Sinclair declared to the crowd as he took the mic, "Happy Hash Bash, everybody."