By Olga Mantilla and Ken Srdjak for the Michigan Daily
April 04, 2005

An estimated 900 people gathered this weekend for Ann Arbor’s annual Hash Bash, a peaceful and music-filled rally that brought together a diverse group of participants. Their reasons for attending ranged from educating people about marijuana reform laws, to supporting a recently passed proposal to allow the use of medicinal marijuana, to witnessing the Ann Arbor tradition for themselves.

Among the speakers at the rally were Scio Township trustee Chuck Ream and Melanie Karr, vice president of the Michigan chapter of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The Diag rally was followed by a street fair held across from the Law Quad and an impromptu march to City Hall led by Ream. The march made its way downtown with 150 participants, including Karr, who held signs that read “74%,” the percentage by which Proposal C, the medical marijuana initiative, passed last November.

“This march is about implementing the marijuana initiative in Ann Arbor,” Karr said.

But Ann Arbor City Attorney Stephen Postema said that the issue that activists like Karr are fighting for is a nonissue.

“There’s been no prosecution for people who use marijuana for medical uses,” he said. “If you have a valid prescription for marijuana, it is legal. That’s state law.”

Postema said that although the vote for the marijuana initiative was valid, the result is unenforceable to the extent that it conflicts with state and federal law.

The U.S. Supreme Court medicinal marijuana case Raich v. Ashcroft, on which a ruling is expected today, was one of the issues proponents of medicinal marijuana discussed at the rally. The case will have significant impact on the future of medicinal marijuana, states’ rights and the federal government’s power in determining the legal scope of its usage.

Although the organizers of Hash Bash said they were present at the rally for both political and recreational reasons, some students scoffed at the notion that the rally was politically motivated.

“I don’t think the political impact is big on campus,” LSA sophomore Ryne Dominguez said. “It’s about smoking, not marijuana (legislation).”

Although many participants chose to smoke marijuana openly, DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said the rally resulted in no arrests or citations, a change from last year’s Hash Bash, which resulted in six marijuana-related arrests and 14 tickets for alcohol-related violations.

The turnout for Hash Bash this year increased from last year’s 650 to approximately 900 people, according to Brown.

Kate Dillon, the vice president of the University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said this year’s rally tried to attract more students and community members by having live bands kick off the event.

“We wanted to bring up the energy of Hash Bash,” she said. “This is the first time the University’s chapter of NORML has had major involvement in the planning of the event.”

Adam Brook, a member of the executive board of Michigan’s NORML chapter, has organized Hash Bash for more than 16 years. He said Hash Bash is renowned across the country as one of the largest, most unadvertised events protesting laws prohibiting marijuana.

“There are thousands here from out of town today,” he said. “The weather has to do with the relatively small turnout during the day, but the bars downtown will be packed tonight. This is a cultural experience in Ann Arbor.”

The University’s College Libertarians were present to show their support for the goals of NORML. College Libertarians Vice Chair Jeremy Linden said his group supports the effort to educate people about marijuana law reform.

“College Libertarians supports the privacy of individuals against government regulation, prohibiting people from doing something that does not harm other people.”

A record number of proposals to reform marijuana laws were on state and local ballots in 2004. Within the past year, legislative districts in California, Montana and Massachusetts have passed medicinal marijuana initiatives that have strengthened existing medicinal marijuana law.

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