‘Free the weed’

Lansing City Pulse

Lansing’s mayor joins Tommy Chong and others at Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash

by Steve Green

It´s the first Saturday in April, Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, and at the University of Michigan the crowd is primed, lighting up in public without fear or harassment or arrest. The odor of burning pot accompanied by promarijuana signs, young and old wearing marijuana themed shirts.

This year’s Hash Bash included the traditional “smoke-in” protest and an extralong list of speakers, among them Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. He was joined by poet/activist John Sinclair, whose arrest 44 years ago for possessing two joints initiated Hash Bash activism, and by stonercomic Tommy Chong, Michigan Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor and others.

Chong, who recently appeared on the television show “Dancing With the Stars,” entertained the crowd with jokes, but his message was serious. He believes that “all pot use is medical. Even the people that are dabbing until they’re unconscious: That is medical use.” He was passionate about ending prohibition and urged the government to decriminalize marijuana, reschedule it, then “get the hell out of the way.” According to him, the people do not need to be told how to grow or use marijuana.

But it was Bernero who advanced a down-to-business, common sense approach to marijuana when he demanded an end to the war on weed. “When you free the weed, you free the people, you free the ingenuity, you free the entrepreneurship, you free the economy.” Bernero has been a proponent of allowing and regulating marijuana sales commercially so local money is reinvested into the local economy, something which cities in Michigan need.

Bernero suggested that the prohibition of marijuana is counter-productive. Instead of spending tax dollars on enforcing and litigating marijuana laws, we could free up space in the jails and let the non-violent marijuana offenders go free to get jobs and quality education. “Regulation, education, taxation, and treatment — that´s the rational route.”

He knows that the war against marijuana has consequences. As with a real war, he expects that ending this one will be very difficult and traumatic.

Joining the more notable speakers was Jim Powers, who offered a personal perspective on the “war.” He told the crowd that the state of Michigan has failed his family by not allowing safe access to cannabis and not providing better protections for his son, 6-year-old Ryan, who uses cannabis oil to treat his auto-immune disease. When Ryan was diagnosed in April 2012, he was prescribed several medications, including steroids and chemotherapy. At just 4 years old, Ryan plumped up from the steroids and was in danger of losing his kidney function, yet he was still unable to go more than 14 days without having a relapse into his disease. Since beginning cannabis therapy, Ryan is back to a normal weight, his body is functioning properly, and he is in the process of weaning off the medication that puts his kidneys in danger. On top of all that, he has been in remission more than 300 days.

Powers and his son, who was with him and dancing around on the stage, made a plea for quick passage of federal legislation to allow his son and others to have safe and consistent access to cannabis therapy.

For Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, it was a repeat Hash Bash appearance, but with an updated message. He has recently drafted legislation that would legalize marijuana in the State of Michigan. He hopes to gain support in the House and the Senate, and urged the people to ask their legislators to support the bill.

Often regarded as the same event as Hash Bash, the Monroe Street Fair was also taking place a few blocks away from the protest site. Just off of University property, people were less inhibited in their marijuana use and thousands of people congregated to listen to bands, check out local vendors, and commune with one another. Vendors included hydroponic stores, glass blowers, Hash Bash merchandisers, publications, and grassroots organizations focused on education and activism.

Though most attendees went home unscathed, there were three reported arrests at Hash Bash, all made by campus police. The three people involved were arrested for possession with intent to deliver while on university property. Still, with the largest attendance in recent history, proponents of sensible marijuana policies hope that that change is coming.

(Steve Green writes the Green Report, a biweekly review of medical marijuana dispensaries. It returns next week.)

Read The Green Report in City Pulse


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