- Katherine Raymond
This year's Hash Bash was different — the first held since Michiganders voted to legalized recreational marijuana use in November.
In a way, it was a return to its roots. The inaugural Hash Bash in 1972 was a celebration of freedom, not a protest, organized following a March 9, 1972, Michigan Supreme Court decision that found the law used to convict activist John Sinclair for possessing two joints was unconstitutional, and the state was briefly without a law prohibiting marijuana.
As Sinclair recounted at Saturday's event at the University of Michigan's Diag, "We went three weeks without any marijuana law, and believe me, we took full advantage of every minute."
In the following decades, the event has become a call for legalization. This year, a banner that read "LEGALIZE 2018" was spray-painted to read "LEGALIZED 2018," and with that objective completed, there was certainly a sense of victory. Some attendees even wondered aloud if there would even need to be another Hash Bash next year (though there was still a sense of rebelliousness; it is still technically illegal to smoke marijuana on campus, though the cops present turned a blind eye).
This year's event featured high-profile endorsements, including a recorded message of support from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who recently created a new marijuana regulatory agency. (At one point, the crowd chanted "Fuck Bill Schuette," the former Attorney General who lost the gubernatorial race to Whitmer after years of campaigning against marijuana.)
Other high-profile speakers included Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (the first federally elected official to speak at the Hash Bash), former Detroit Pistons player John Salley, and former Fox 2 news anchor Anqunette "Q" Jamison Sarfoh, who invested in the industry by opening the Detroit medical marijuana provisioning center BotaniQ after finding that cannabis helped her multiple sclerosis.
Though Dingell says she has never smoked marijuana, she said she recommended it for medicinal use to her late husband, the former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who died last year at age 92. Marijuana has been approved for medicinal use in Michigan since 2008.
"I wanted him to try it because he was in so much pain, and he was so afraid of it," she told the crowd. "Right now because marijuana is still scheduled as a class one drug, we're not doing the research we need."
The fact that there is still much work to be done was a common theme among the afternoon's speakers. Cannabis attorney Matt Abel said we now must work to release and expunge the criminal records of those who have been punished for marijuana possession — of which African-Americans and people of color are disproportionately affected.
"There are people who have criminal records for doing stuff that we're doing here right now, who shouldn't have those records," he said. "And those criminal records are keeping them from being in the marijuana business. The irony of it is that anybody who used to sell, can't sell weed. So we can change that."
Sarfoh said she found relief for her multiple sclerosis in the marijuana strain Gorilla Glue, which replaced a regimen of a cocktail of drugs, including one M.S. drug that cost her $90,000 a year. But she echoed Abel's sentiments.
"I cannot hire some of the most experienced growers and budtenders because they have records for something that is no longer illegal," she said. "Patients and dispensary owners who were unfairly prosecuted should not be shut out — especially when police officers and prosecutors are now in the industry and they're opening provisioning centers."
"Right now, people who have never used cannabis and whose minds are only filled with 70 years of propaganda and lies are writing the rules," she said. "We need to be at the table. Our fight isn't over and is just getting started."
Still, Michigan marijuana users have much to be thankful for. Already Michigan has established itself as the marijuana capital of not just the Midwest but the eastern half of the United States, with some of the most progressive marijuana laws in the country.
"We have one of the best laws," Sam Pence from MI Legalize said. "Don't let anybody tell you differently. We have the best possession limits, the best enforcement language."
Other speakers called for marijuana to be reclassified as an illegal drug on a federal level so it can be further researched, as well as banking reform to be more friendly to marijuana businesses, so owners no longer have to deal in duffle bags full of cash.
Michael Tuffelmire, a Grand Rapids-area Army Vet who advocates for marijuana for its help in treating PTSD, called for the stigma against the drug to be dropped, especially by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"They want to put you on a lot of pills. There's a lot of money in that for them," he said. "They want to say it's OK to drink, but it's not OK to use a little bit of marijuana. We need to stop with that stigma, and we need to remind our brothers and sisters around us to stop at that. That could save their lives. They're having trouble. It's OK to talk to somebody, to tell them to smoke a little bit, to not go to the bar and start looking for the answer to the bottom of the bottle, because I myself and others have looked for that, and it's not there. And some of us can never get out of that."
"People act like we won the war, but we didn't win the war," he said. "We won a huge battle, and an evolutionary turning point in this state. This was our Gettysburg."