Ann Arbor, Michigan is known for being home to the University of Michigan. It’s also home to the annual Hash Bash event, the one day a year when the no-smoking policy on campus is temporarily bypassed. That’s right, since 1972, thousands of people have gathered from all over the state to take hits from bongs, share a joint, or eat cannabis edibles in public.
Hash Bash occurs on the first Saturday of April and begins at noon on the University of Michigan Diag. Anyone and everyone can attend as it’s a non-ticketed event. In the past, Hash Bash fell under a peaceful protest genre. It was an assembly of speeches, street vending, and live music centered around the goal of reforming federal, state, and local marijuana laws. But the event in 2019 was a special one, as Hash Bash celebrated the legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults over 21 years old. That law was passed in November 2018.
The first Saturday of April in Ann Arbor is filled with smoke, smiles, and stoners. Here’s everything else you need to know about Hash Bash.
The first Hash Bash took place on April 1, 1972. This was in response to the conviction of cultural activist, John Sinclair, who was arrested in 1969 for possession of two marijuana joints and sentenced to 10 years in prison. On March 9, 1972, the Michigan Supreme Court declared the law that convicted him unconstitutional, freeing Sinclair from prison. But it also left the state of Michigan without a law prohibiting the use of marijuana until after the weekend of April 1, 1972. On this day, Sinclair and his friends went to the Diag to protest marijuana being newly illegal again. Every year since then, people have gathered on the University of Michigan Diag to participate in a peaceful rally in support of marijuana legalization. While smoking marijuana in public still is illegal, there’s a general understanding that Ann Arbor police won’t enforce state law on this day.
Hash Bash continued throughout the years with many of its participants actively working towards the legalization of weed in Michigan. Then in 2018, 56 percent of Michigan voters legalized the sale and use of marijuana. It’s the first Midwestern state to do so. The new law centers on Proposal 1, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. This permits people who are 21 or older to possess and grow cannabis for personal use. It also licenses commercial production and retail sales of marijuana.
As you may imagine, this opens up a lot of confusion for students of the University of Michigan, whose division of public safety and security issued a FAQ page about the use of weed on campus. The University of Michigan acts under federal law, which prohibits the use of recreational or medicinal marijuana in any form.
The event in 2019 saw thousands of participants and speakers including politicians, activists, and cannabis researchers. Even with the new state law passed, Hash Bash will continue to be a celebration of peace, love, and respect for the green plant.
How to Get There
Ann Arbor is about a 30-minute drive from Detroit. It’s a college town, so there are many hotels and vacation rentals for accommodation. The event itself is right in the heart of campus, called the Michigan Diag. It’s a busy space where students run back and forth to their classes, but it’s also a prime spot for outdoor concerts, fundraisers, or protests.
Although there’s a lot of street parking around campus, it’s best to book a local cab or use car services such as Uber or Lyft to get around during Hash Bash as you don’t want to be driving under the influence. Local buses are also easy to use, but if you’re staying near or on campus, Ann Arbor is a fairly walkable town.
What to Do at Hash Bash
Besides the obvious of passing a joint with fellow lovers of weed, there are speeches, live music, and peaceful demonstrations at Hash Bash as well. The speeches are usually given by pro-pot speakers and cultural activists in support of marijuana, giving the crowd advice for what they can do to help legalize weed.
The event in 2019 saw speeches from the governor of Michigan who expressed her pride in the new law. As well as U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) who called for the decriminalization marijuana at a federal level, and former state Senator David Knezek who told the crowd that no one will be prosecuted for victimless crimes in Michigan, as reported by MLive. The 2019 Hash Bash was definitely a different vibe than those in the past. It had more emphasis on being a celebration rather than a peaceful rally.
Things to Know
You’ll want to bring cash as you might come across hawkers selling pre-rolled joints or cannabis edibles. (Even though it’s not exactly legal to sell weed on campus, money is accepted as a “donation.”) Ann Arbor’s weather is a toss-up during April—some years it has snowed, others it was warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt. What we do know is to dress up!
You’ll see some funky outfits in the crowd inspired by the leafy plant and Rastafari colors of red, yellow, and green. With thousands of people in attendance, you’ll spot some quirky characters such as campus icon, Violin Monster. And don’t be surprised if you see John Sinclair himself in the crowd.
There are street performers playing instruments and tents set up where you can purchase official merchandise, take hits from a bong, or simply learn about community initiatives. Hash Bash usually lasts a few hours (or until the munchies hit). Luckily, there are plenty of places to eat in Ann Arbor to satisfy those cravings.
If you’re curious about taking weed to and from the event, it’s generally okay on this day. Over the years, Ann Arbor police haven’t made it a habit to arrest anyone in possession of marijuana during Hash Bash. But keep in mind that under the new state law, smoking pot in public is a civil infraction that will incur a fine. It’s best to BYO weed to Hash Bash until marijuana is commercially available for sale in Michigan.
Departing Hash Bash
If you happen to be in a daze after enjoying Hash Bash, take a walk to South University Avenue or State Street where you’ll find a whole heap of restaurants that will satisfy your munchie urges. If you want to stay on theme, head to Fleetwood Diner and order the “hippie hash.” Zingerman’s Deli is also an iconic (and funky) Ann Arbor restaurant serving the best pastrami sandwiches around.
Hash Bash is a quirky event with a peaceful purpose. Over the past 48 years, it has provided voters with the tools they need to make changes within the state and legalize pot.