People recognize Ann Arbor through the University of Michigan, Hash Bash, Art Fairs and student protests, but when many think of Ann Arbor, they think of our $5 pot law. Passed in 1971, this law then and now, drew the wrath of people all over the state. To this day I hear comments about Ann Arbor and how liberal it is, due to this law.
When the law was originally passed, offenders were mailed misdemeanor tickets, once the State Police Crime Lab tested the suspected marijuana. In 1972, State Police Director John Plants sent a letter to the city stating he intended to take steps to prevent the city from “providing a sanctuary for large-scale marijuana traffic.” The fear at the time was that due to the small fine for minor amounts of marijuana, the city would become a place where marijuana traffickers would set up shop. He further stated that Ann Arbor cases would be low priority at the crime lab, due to the law. “I will not allow your ordinance to in any way deter marijuana investigations by my officers in the City of Ann Arbor,” Plants said. “If the policies of the city provide a sanctuary for large-scale trafficking in marijuana, I will put a stop to it by any legal means at my disposal.”
The ordinance was repealed by the Republican council the following year, but was quickly reinstated in April of 1974. Ann Arbor voters decided to add the issue to the city charter, thus again making marijuana possession a $5 fine.
This charter amendment was not expected to pass, but heavy student turnout was the difference in its passage. The $5 fine for marijuana possession stayed in effect until 1990, when city voters approved a proposal raising the fine to $25.
An amusing story involving marijuana occurred in January of 1975. The Ann Arbor Sun was an anti-establishment newspaper which sponsored a drawing for a free pound of marijuana. Over 4,500 people entered this drawing. What was equally unusual was the person that drew the winning entry was County Commissioner Catherine McClary.
Chief Krasny heard of the drawing and asked the prosecutor's office to issue an opinion in regards to it. Prosecutor Delhey did go to court in an attempt to stop the drawing, but Judge Ager dismissed his motion as he stated the Sun's staff had not been properly served with the appropriate paperwork.
Chief Krasny commented, “I don't think we could make a conspiracy case out of it if we wanted to. We didn't get too excited about it in the first place, but everyone else did so we had to do our thing.”
David Fenton, editor of the Sun, stated the purpose of the giveaway of the marijuana was an effort to boost circulation and to point out the paper's support for the legalization of pot. For fear of prosecution, the winner's name was not revealed and the paper was to arrange for the delivery of the “high grade Colombian marijuana.”
Marijuana has always seemed to be the drug of choice in Ann Arbor, popularized by events such as the Hash Bash. The Hash Bash is an annual event sponsored by groups that desire the legalization of marijuana. Part of the origin of the Hash Bash was the efforts of activists to free John Sinclair from prison. Sinclair, chairman of the Rainbow People's Party, had been sentenced to nine years in prison for possession of marijuana in 1969. This enraged the local marijuana smoking community and they lobbied for his release.
In 1971 they sponsored a “Free John Now” concert at Crisler Arena. Some of the performers at this concert were Bob Seger, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Michigan Legislature did reduce the penalties for marijuana possession effective April 1, 1971, thus the date of the Hash Bash. The first Hash Bash was held on April 1, 1972 on the Diag. Sinclair was released from prison on appeal in 1971 and stated, “I'm going to go home and smoke some joints man!”
This event has ebbed and flowed through the years with thousands of people initially attending in the 1970's to 15–20 in the mid 1980's. The Hash Bash almost ended with this low attendance, in part because of the April 1 date, which was usually in the middle of the week. Ann Arbor Police Chief Bill Corbett stated in 1981, “Hash Bash is dying a natural death and I am pleased to have been the one to preside over its demise.” Police reported that the 1984 Hash Bash did not draw a single person.
The date of the Hash Bash was changed to the first Saturday in April in 1988 by national marijuana activists and the event slowly regained popularity. Today's Hash Bash draws between 3000 to 5000 people.
The Hash Bash draws people from all over Michigan and neighboring states who attend this festival with open smoking of marijuana everywhere. One just has to walk down S. State near the Diag and the smell of marijuana lingers in the air. Hundreds of tickets are written every year for marijuana possession and some who receive them are surprised. These people think it is legal to smoke marijuana on the day of the Hash Bash!