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Higher Ground: Notes from the Hash Bash

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Tommy Chong, half of the vintage comedy duo Cheech and Chong, made a series of appearances over the weekend for a big weekend anchored by the 44th Ann Arbor Hash Bash.

On Friday there was a breakfast at an Ann Arbor-area hotel, along with about 50 invited guests. I managed to get in with someone who had a plus-one invite — her husband was out of town, so I got in. I figured it would be interesting to hear what Chong had to say and maybe I'd get a few laughs.

When I got there, a bunch of folks were just standing around in the lobby chatting. There were a fair number of familiar faces in the crowd: Matt Abel, director of Michigan NORML, as well as Charmie Gholson from Michigan Moms United. Jamie Lowell from 3rd Coast Compassion Center, Heidi Parikh from Michigan Compassion, Rick Thompson of the Compassion Chronicles, and Harry Cayce from People's Choice dispensary — it was a crowd of marijuana folks all around. I met the owners of the Om of Medicine, and a few others, whose names I neglected to remember or write down.

When it came time to sit down and eat that's just what we did. There was no speechmaking about Chong or legalization. The guy from BDT smoke shops, who seemed to be escorting Chong around said, "Let's eat."

Chong threw in a "Where's the food?" and that was that.

After the jaws finished masticating the French toast and eggs, folks lined up to get their Cheech and Chong albums signed and have their picture taken with Chong.

As we were leaving, I got a chance to put my signature on a cardboard box that Cayce carried. "DEA evidence" was printed on the side. Apparently the box once contained evidence from Cayce that the DEA had to return to him after some complication and he wanted the cannabis activists to sign his box.

Then I headed to Hazel Park, where Chong appeared at the BDT shop on John R. The location was easy to find — there was a line snaked around the block with people clutching their old Cheech and Chong albums waiting to get them autographed. What amazed me was the number of people who appeared to be about 17. Chong is an old-school stoner whose heyday was in the 1970s. I figured the young folks wouldn't know much about him. But they were there in droves.

There was a tent in a lot behind BDT where all the action was. Mayor Jan Parisi was on hand to give Chong the key to the city. This was the only time that I saw Chong make any attempt to be funny. He had something that looked like an oversized joint that he flashed around during speechmaking that no one could hear. When Parisi handed Chong the oversized key, he handed her the oversized joint, saying, "I'd like to present to the mayor of Hazel Park my key to the universe." Chong then put the key to his mouth as though he were smoking a pipe. Then he had to return to the tent to continue signing autographs and taking pictures.

I asked Parisi why she was out there for Chong. She said that she was "just excited to see him here. I just liked him in That '70s Show."

Then I turned to City Councilman Andy LeCureaux, who was also out there. He was ready for me. "I'm the marijuana councilman," he said. "I'm the libertarian who wants to end the war on drugs."

There was an odor of burning marijuana wafting through the air. The people standing in line with their Big Bambu albums in hand had to do something as they waited. I went to the end of the line and asked a woman there how long she was willing to wait to get an autograph.

"As long as it takes," she said. As far as I could tell she was going to be a couple of hours at it.

On Saturday I headed to Ann Arbor again for the Hash Bash and ran into more Bash-bound traffic than ever before. The U-M spring football game was on and added to the traffic, but that happens most years. I think there were more folks headed to the Bash because Chong was appearing. The bottom line is it took me about two hours to get there and I missed most of the first hour.

As I arrived, 18-year-old Alysa Erwin was speaking about her fight with brain cancer using hemp oil treatments.

Shortly thereafter Chong came on. "I don't need a lot of marijuana," he said, "but I need it every day." Chong himself fought off prostate cancer with hemp oil treatments. His speech was a short, rambling discussion hitting points such as DEA rescheduling of marijuana, CBD oil treating epilepsy, and asset forfeiture. He finished with "I got to go smoke me one right now," and headed over to the Monroe Street Fair to sit in a BDT booth and continue signing autographs. About a quarter of the crowd headed over with him as they were apparently more interested in Chong than the more political talk coming from others. There were still a lot of people who hung in there for that — like I said, it was a big crowd.

Things continued with the likes of Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), and Rep. Mike Callton (R-Barry County). Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero had spoken earlier. Attorney Jeffrey Hank talked about the MI Legalize effort to get legalization on the ballot in 2016.

Then the whole thing was wrapped up by guitarist Laith Al-Saadi playing a rousing version of "Let's Go Get Stoned." I'm pretty sure the crowd was already there.


Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.

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