By Thomas Gala-Garza
Hash Bash, held the first Saturday of each April, is an event in Ann Arbor, Michigan centered on reforming marijuana laws at the local, state, and federal levels. Consider Magazine has borne witness to 40 years of Hash Bashes, and has chosen to use Hash Bash as an magazine topic a number of times. One of these times was more than 28 years ago, in 1995. Students’ opinions back then were recorded in volume 12, issue 18 of the magazine: “Should we Trash Hash Bash?”.
On April 1st, 2023, the date of this year’s Hash Bash, our Instagram account asked viewers for their opinions on the event. I’ve collected these responses to provide insight into how student opinion has evolved over time on the same issue.
One person commented on the general impact the event has on the campus’ atmosphere. “I’m not a big fan of marijuana in general,” they noted. “I don’t like an event that revolves around it. I don’t like the kind of energy it draws to campus on that day. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable.”
Having been present for this year’s Hash Bash, I could certainly speak to the surprising nature of some of the characters there. That day, I found my college experience truly wasn’t complete without seeing a clown play the saxophone in the rain. Another person agrees, questioning “Why are all these random characters showing up from both Michigan and out of state?” Indeed, part of the discomfort surrounding Hash Bash is the fact that random people of all ages congregate in the center of campus all at once. This isn’t restricted to older people, either – Hash Bash frequently coincides with college tours and parents weekends. This year, I even witnessed a baby being wheeled through the center of the action in the middle of the day.
A third student brought up an important point about Hash Bash’s relevancy. “I’m just confused what the purpose is,” they said. Hash Bash was created with the goal of reforming marijuana laws, which was the focal point of our ‘95 issue on the topic. Now that marijuana is legal in Michigan, I see Hash Bash as more of a celebration than anything. Under the pseudonym “Sergei Anonymov”, one 1995 student compares marijuana use to the Prohibition era.
“The Prohibition of the twenties gave birth to a prosperous underworld (for the illegal sale of alcohol)”, they wrote. “However, as time passed, people began to realize that more problems resulted from banning alcohol than drinking it. The demand remained the same.” Anonymov’s main point speaks to the inevitability of the situation: “People have always, and will always, smoke marijuana. It is here to stay. Whether it is legal or not, they will choose to use.”
Though it remained illegal for many years, in 2018, marijuana was legalized in Michigan, casting a different view on the event as a whole. The last several Hash Bashes have posed an interesting question for the marijuana advocates who organize and attend them. Does Hash Bash pursue the lofty goal of trying to legalize marijuana nationwide? Or does it simply celebrate their “victory”? 2023’s Hash Bash was certainly openly celebrated. Not only did I see people smoking out in the open, the walkways of the diag were also full of people selling marijuana, an easy feat now that it’s legal to do so. This victory would have clearly upset the other participant in the 1995 issue, who called themself “Stanley Smokesalot”. Despite admitting to smoking pot with no personal moral dilemma, they discuss its harmful effects. “Extended marijuana use can lead to Cannabism, a condition associated by anxiety, disorientation, hallucinations, memory defects, and paranoia,” they said. “I have seen what excess usage can do to people (my kitchen hasn’t been cleaned in a month), and I can’t justify such behavior at a nationwide level.”
They have a cautious reaction to Hash Bash’s yearly smoke-fest, with an understanding towards the system that had been keeping marijuana illegal for years after his piece was published. “If the government were to decriminalize a law which was made to protect the public, it would lose the respect of those it swore to protect by not living up to its end of the social bargain,” they said. It seems that this attitude of persisting to smoke, despite its harmful effects, would agree with that of the other writer in the 1995 issue. For me, this brings into question whether Hash Bash was inevitable or not while marijuana was still illegal. If anything, perhaps the temptation of illegality spurred more participation prior to 2018. Now that activists have reached a crucial goal, a large reason to be there certainly feels missing.
Despite the modern air of confusion and negativity surrounding the event, one student raised a good point about a silver lining to the event. “It’s stunning,” they said. “There’s a strangely strong community which I wasn’t expecting.” Though there are a lot of unfamiliar faces on campus on this day, it’s clear that they all share similar interests. The eagerness with which they can get behind enjoying marijuana evokes a similar sense of camaraderie from shared enjoyment of other entertainment.
The fleeting nature of this yearly event makes any attitude towards it, celebration or annoyance, time-limited. Whatever your stance on Hash Bash, it’s important to mark your calendar for that first Saturday of every April.