Beer drinkers never held a party like this — not with politicians, a hospice manager and other speakers standing before a huge crowd to endorse their chosen kind of intoxication as both a health cure-all and a civil right.
But this is no beer bash that runs today from "high noon" until 4 p.m. on the campus of University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It’s the 47th annual Hash Bash — a zany combo of stoner silliness, political activism and open marijuana smoking, occurring under the watchful eyes of the so far largely uninvolved U-M campus police.
"Weed is what we need to succeed — let weed'om ring!" shouted Richard Clement, aide to Detroit City Councilman George Cushingberry III.
Before a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 and still growing at 1 p.m., under sunny skies and waving flags of green, Clement and a roster of other speakers has exhorted the crowd to become political missionaries for spreading the faith. That translates to helping gather 253,000 signatures that backers will need to get a marijuana legalization question on 2018 ballots.
"Everybody rest up because sometime soon, probably in May, we're going to be on the street with petitions," Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer and a board member of the MiLegalize petition group, told the crowd.
The university takes pains to say it does not endorse the event — but can’t prevent it. This spring rite of speeches, live music and cannabis consumption takes place yearly at the U-M Diag, a plaza of diagonal sidewalks specially reserved for free speech. With nationwide sentiment growing apace to legalize marijuana, or at least to make possessing it a non-criminal infraction, Hash Bash 2017 has drawn a big crowd — although so far, not a record one — for an event that’s to last twice as long as last year's event: four hours instead of two.
The crowd included people of all ages, from 20-somethings to men with graying ponytails. Not all were smoking cannabis, but all seemed sympathetic to making the drug legal.
"I think I'm getting enough just of a contact high" without inhaling, said a chuckling Alice Gordon, 48, of Ann Arbor. Neither Gordon nor her friend Reine Grammatico, 50, also of Ann Arbor, were smoking but both agreed, as Gordon put it, "Let people do what they want."