Gathered under clouds of weed smoke on the University of Michigan Diag, cannabis enthusiasts young and old passed joints and smoked bowls.
Thousands came out for the 47th annual Hash Bash marijuana rally in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 7.
For two hours, the crowd cheered on speakers including politicians, professional athletes and leading marijuana legalization activists who issued a call for legalizing marijuana in Michigan.
Ann Arbor musician Laith Al-Saadi, who achieved fame as a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” played the national anthem on electric guitar to kick things off, after which speakers took the mic.
Organizers of this year’s rally said they’re hoping this will be the last Hash Bash before marijuana is legalized for recreational use and not just medical use in Michigan.
They’re counting on state voters to approve a ballot proposal in November to legalize recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older, taxing and regulating it much like alcohol.
“Unless there’s some sort of hornswoggling on the part of the Legislature, our issue will be on the ballot in November, and already they say six out of 10 Michigan voting residents support legalization of marijuana in the fullest,” said poet John Sinclair, the man the local marijuana legalization movement started around in the 1970s. “We believed in this when it was 6 percent.”
Former Fox 2 News anchor Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh talked about the medical benefits of marijuana and how it has helped her personally deal with having multiple sclerosis.
“Up until two years ago, I was the morning TV news anchor for Fox 2 in Detroit, but people did not see what multiple sclerosis was doing to me,” she said. “I was exhausted all the time.
“I needed a pill just to get out of bed. Every other day, I would inject my body — either my side or my thigh or the back of my arm — with a medication that burned, that (stung), that left bruises, and cost my insurance company $91,000 a year. It also made me violently ill, so they prescribed a half dozen other medications to deal with that.”
Jamison Sarfoh said those medications didn’t always work. After another trip to the hospital where she was pumped with morphine and muscle relaxers, she said, she decided to try marijuana as an alternative medicine on the advice of her husband.
“Babe, why don’t you just smoke a joint?” she recalled her husband telling her.
“Once I did that, the nausea disappeared. The headaches disappeared,” she said. “I even had energy. I didn’t know cannabis could do that.”
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed both addressed the crowd, making it known they support legalizing marijuana.
“We know we are on the cusp of legalization in Michigan,” Whitmer said, adding “let’s just get it done.”
“I’m here because I’m done waiting while young people get arrested for something that should not be illegal,” El-Sayed said.
Michigan attorney general candidate Dana Nessel, a Democrat, told the crowd she attended her first Hash Bash as a student at UM in 1988. She said she supported legalization then and now.
“I am proud to be the first candidate ever to run for the position of Michigan attorney general to support full legalization of cannabis,” she said, drawing cheers and applause.
“The war on marijuana has been an abject failure. We have hurt so many through the war on marijuana, but we have helped so few.”
Ann Arbor City Council members Jack Eaton and Anne Bannister also spoke. Eaton talked about how he was busted for marijuana in 1985, while Bannister said she’s been coming to Hash Bash for about 25 years and she was honored to speak at the event.
“This is personal to me,” Eaton said. “In 1985, I was prosecuted for possession of a small amount of marijuana. I was fortunate to get into a diversion program and get that expunged from my record, but obviously not everybody is.”
Speaking in favor of legalizing marijuana, Eaton continued, “So, we have to take this step to make sure that nobody else is prosecuted, but then there are other steps we’re going to have to take starting next year. We have to go back and expunge the records of those people who have been prosecuted for marijuana. We have to go back and we have to let the people out of jail who are still in jail for marijuana.”
Bannister suggested legalizing marijuana can help address the opioid crisis that has claimed many lives.
“A lot of legitimate scientific studies are showing that marijuana can be a much less harmful alternative to people hooked on opioids, so there’s a lot of work to be done,” she said.
UM Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Gus Rosania spoke in support of cannabis research.
“I am going to take the lead and say we’re going to start building science around marijuana, around cannabis, and we’re also going to start to educate people, teaching them how this drug can be used to treat disease conditions,” Rosania said.
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, was one of the final speakers of the afternoon, calling for ending the war against marijuana.
“We’re going to get that ballot initiative passed,” Rabhi said. “It is beyond time that we end this war on drugs. It is a racist war. It is a war that is locking people up and wasting taxpayer dollars putting people in jail that shouldn’t be in jail. If we’re going to be fiscally responsible in this state, let’s talk about that.”
Athletes who spoke included Detroit Lions running back Mike James, former Detroit Red Wings hockey player Darren McCarty, and former NFL player Eugene Monroe.
“NFL players are four times more likely to become addicted to an opiate than the general population,” James said, calling for a change to the NFL’s policy on marijuana. “It’s time to put players on the field with a less harmful medicine.”
McCarty, who has spoken before about his struggles as an alcoholic and how marijuana in his opinion helped save his life, described himself as a survivor of alcohol, opiates and life.
“The bottom line out of all this, why we’re here, is because we know the truth and we’ve got a secret, and all we’re trying to do is share it with the rest of the world,” McCarty said, calling those in the crowd at the Hash Bash rally “warriors of truth.”
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol turned in roughly 365,000 signatures to the state last fall in hopes of getting its legalization proposal on the November 2018 ballot. The signatures are still under review by the state Bureau of Elections, but supporters are confident the 252,523-signature requirement will be met.
The Bureau of Elections is expected to submit a report to the Board of State Canvassers soon, and the board is then expected to vote on whether to place the proposal on the November ballot.
A group called Healthy and Productive Michigan is opposing the legalization proposal, arguing there are economic, safety and health concerns that come with recreational marijuana use.
“We are committed to keeping Michigan’s economy thriving and our citizens healthy, by preventing the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan,” the group states on its website, arguing any tax revenue from legal marijuana is outweighed by the societal costs “just like tobacco and alcohol, where costs far outweigh revenues.”