A long and arduous journey, beginning in London on Feb. 6, carried me from Amsterdam to Madrid; Barcelona; New Orleans; Oxford and Holly Springs, Miss.; Little Rock and Fayetteville, Ark.; Memphis and Chicago to Detroit just in time for the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor. It was a very beautiful day on the Diag and over on Monroe Street, with thousands of fellow vipers and medical marijuana patients milling around in and out of the sun and having their fun in a joyous diversity of ways.
Not long after the first Hash Bash in 1972 we had changed the marijuana law equation in Ann Arbor for good, setting a vivid precedent for “decriminalization” by establishing a city ordinance that would punish marijuana violations with the issuance of a municipal ticket carrying a $5 fine. This was accomplished by first uniting the progressive elements on campus and in the city around the platform of the Human Rights Party, getting out the vote three days after Hash Bash, and electing two members of the HRP to the seven-member Ann Arbor City Council; they became the swing vote needed to enable either the Republicans or Democrats on the Council to enact laws, approve budgets and carry on the business of the city.
Honoring the party’s commitment to the critical weed-smoking wing of the HRP, our newly elected councilpersons made some sort of bargain, the details of which escape me but which resulted in the enactment of the “$5 fine,” as the ordinance was known locally. The “Rainbow faction” of the HRP, for which this writer served as a representative in the intra-party negotiations, acknowledged that full legalization wasn’t possible, but insisted that the least possible harm must be done by the marijuana laws and that a $5 ticket would be just about as far as could be gone at the time.
Once enacted, the Ann Arbor marijuana ordinance served as a model for the progressives of Ypsilanti and East Lansing, where similar laws were enacted, establishing Michigan as the world leader in harm reduction with respect to marijuana use. Activists in the Netherlands picked up the banner and moved it up a couple of levels, decriminalizing all recreational drug use and providing for over-the-counter sales of marijuana and hashish in the coffee shops that proliferated into the hundreds, entirely without regulation until the mid-1990s.
Unhappily, marijuana legalization in the United States never got any further than Michigan in the early 1970s. Progress stalled until the medical marijuana movement in California led by Dennis Perrone and Scott Immler succeeded in legalizing medical marijuana 20 years later and opened the door to the series of ballot initiatives that’s led 15 states and the District of Columbia to recognize the benefits of weed and protect citizens from arrest for smoking. Just now several states ? including California and Massachusetts ? have effectively decriminalized cannabis by making possession a ticketable, noncriminal offense subject to fines of as much as $100. Breckenridge, Colo., has completely legalized the sacrament within its city limits.
But the fact remains that the marijuana laws are entirely specious and without scientific or appropriate social foundation. They should never have been enacted, let alone enforced with such a vengeance, and the longer any of them remain in effect the greater the continuing injustice and the uglier the hypocrisy of our legal system and the police state that’s grown up around it. There is absolutely no reason to arrest somebody for smoking marijuana. There is no need to squander billions of tax dollars in pursuit of this ridiculous charade. If these idiots in the Republican Party really wanted to cut back on public expenditures in an effective and socially useful manner, they would legalize recreational drugs and dismantle the vast machinery of the War on Drugs.
After 40 years, the Hash Bash is sporting a new identity as a legal gathering of medical marijuana patients and caregivers celebrating their freedom from arrest and prosecution and looking ahead to the liberation of the entire marijuana-smoking populace. The University of Michigan police still maintain their presence as a force of impending doom, but the spirit of challenge and defiance from the thousands of partisans gathered on the Diag simply overwhelmed their vibe. This spirit has waxed and (mostly) waned over four decades, but it’s growing bolder now and, for this grizzled participant-observer, it’s a beautiful thing to feel out in the open, blowing in the wind.
My friend Ben Horner of Flint, publisher of the MMM Report, took me off from Monroe Street and out to a couple of local outposts of the medical marijuana community: a terrific grow shop downtown at the corner of First and Liberty called Gro-Blue, owned and operated by a dynamic mother-daughter team with deep Ann Arbor roots, and the Green Bee Collective on the western edge of town, where I found the son of my old friend and attorney Dennis Hayes as a member of the staff and registered as a card-carrying Green Bee member. Dennis Hayes was just out of law school when he joined my legal defense team in 1971 and served as a courier between the legal collective and the prisoner held at Jackson, being this writer. Hayes is the angel who brought me the news that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were coming to my rescue at Crisler Arena on Dec. 10, 1971, and played me a tape from Lennon confirming the arrangements.
Now I’m a member of two medical collectives. My home base is Trans-Love Energies Compassion Collective near Eastern Market, and it’s different from the dispensary model that’s spreading like wildfire across the state. Named after the hippie collective spearheaded by Rob Tyner, myself and several close friends in 1967, it’s based in the ideals we embraced back then. Legally, we’re a private club of registered patients and caregivers who meet to exchange medication in a convivial atmosphere. In fact we have our own Internet radio station, Detroit Life Radio, that plays a vital role in transmitting important musical and cultural information and providing a proper musical setting for the premises.
John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is It’s All Good.
This article originally ran in the Metro Times.