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For the 48th year, dedicated cannabis campaigners, consumers, and sober voyeurs will gather en masse for the annual Hash Bash Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 6, 2019.

Equal parts culture festival, street fair, cannabis competition, and marijuana advocacy, the Hash Bash is a long-running Ann Arbor tradition that kicks off the first Saturday of each April at The Diag on the University of Michigan campus at noon.

The 2019 event features a host of speakers and performers, including a Jimi Hendrix-style electric guitar rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Laith Al-Saadi, a finalist from “The Voice,” and a poem reading by marijuana advocate John Sinclair. After the speeches wrap up about 1:30 p.m., attendees can head over to the Weedmaps-sponsored Monroe Street Fair just a few blocks away along Monroe Street, to check out live music, as well as independent artists and vendors. This year's performers include Billy Davis, famed blues guitarist and former mentor to Jimi Hendrix.

The Monroe Street Fair follows the Hash Bash Festival on the University of Michigan campus. Both are in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 6, 2019. (Photo by Charles Strackbein)

For the past three years, Ann Arbor has also hosted a competitive Hash Bash Cup, described by organizer Corey “The Budtender” as a “three-day banger” at the Wyndham Garden Hotel. For 2019, the cup has even expanded this year to encompass a second hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites Ann Arbor-West, and includes a shuttle service to the Diag, 14-category competitive cup, food truck vendors, live music during the day, and electronic DJs spinning until 4 a.m. Day passes start at $50, and weekend passes are available for $80. A $200 VIP pass is available, which includes a special Hash Bash Cup pin, food truck vouchers, and access to the event's VIP lounge.

The Hash Bash has always been an excuse to light up since its inaugural event in 1971. In the years since, other open consumption festivals have gone viral, but Sinclair says one thing separates the Hash Bash from the others: “The Hash Bash started before any of those people were even born!”

A Battle Hard Fought

The 2019 Hash Bash is considered a staple of marijuana culture in Michigan, but the event has had a fraught history since its inception decades ago, and at one point, even pronounced nearly dead.

The first Hash Bash in 1971 marked the early release of Michigan marijuana advocate John Sinclair, after receiving an original 10-year prison sentence for possession of two joints.

Encouraged by Sinclair's legal victory, the earliest Hash Bash events were some of the most brazen. At the 1973 Hash Bash, Democratic Michigan state Rep. Perry Bullard was photographed smoking a joint with fellow attendees, telling reporters “There's nothing wrong with it.”

Two years later, the Ann Arbor Sun — an underground paper favored by Sinclair and his cohorts — advertised a mail-in contest where readers could enter to win a pound of Colombian marijuana, which would be presented by Bullard. The winner, according to the history page maintained by the Ann Arbor District Library, was Washtenaw County Commissioner Catherine McClary

Ann Arbor is known both for the Hash Bash and its “$5 pot law” — originally enacted by the Ann Arbor City Council in 1971, then repealed by Republican lawmakers, and finally added to the city charter by a citywide vote in 1974, according to an Ann Arbor District Library blog post.

Over the years, lawmakers in neighboring municipalities — such as Michigan state Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom of the appropriately named community of Temperance — argued that it would turn the city into a mecca for drug trafficking. By the early 1980s, attendance to the festival declined, and prohibitionists were quick to gloat in the local media.

“The Hash Bash is dying a natural death,” Ann Arbor Police Chief William Corbett told the Ann Arbor News in 1981. “And I am pleased to have been the one to preside over its demise.”

In 1983, Ann Arbor News ran an image of a small handful of people on the Diag, and just one police officer, pronouncing it a non-event. The next two decades would mark a period of intense struggle between advocates, lawmakers, and university administrators.

Ann Arbor residents voted to increase the fine to $25 for first offenders in 1990, and the following year the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) renamed the Hash Bash the Hemp Rally, asking attendees not to smoke. In 1993 the University of Michigan tried to charge organizers $9,000 for use of the Diag, as reported by the Ann Arbor News, but a Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge ruled against the university, declaring it a restriction of free speech. The crowds began to grow again, with the Ann Arbor News reporting 5,000 attendees in 1994, and again in 2000.

As the Hash Bash and its politics gained public acceptance, mainstream politicians flocked to the event to show their support for legalization. In 2011, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson made an appearance. In 2018, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, who went on to win the governorship, took the stage in front of a large “Legalize 2018” banner.

Bring Your Stash

While the Diag at the University of Michigan is on state property, and public consumption is still illegal under state law, Hash Bash Cup organizers Adam Brook doesn't tell people to leave their stashes at home. In fact, he encourages people to light up confidently.

“You gotta be balls out about it,” Brook said.

A supporter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) wears a “pot” pot on her head during the Monroe Street Fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Charles Strackbein)

“Hash Bash is a protest, and has always been a protest, until we free all pot prisoners,” said Monroe Street Fair founder Charles Strackbein.

Hash Bash is a protest, and has always been a protest, until we free all pot prisoners. Click To Tweet

He points out that the fair is on city property, governed by Ann Arbor's more liberal possession laws. If the Hash Bash is an act of protest and defiance, the Monroe Street Fair is more of a celebration, Strackbein said.

In the past, the fair's 4:20 countdown has been led by celebrities including Tommy Chong, who marked the occasion in 2016 by lighting up a massive 53 gram joint. This year, things have come full circle — the master of ceremonies will be none other than Sinclair.

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