Hash Bash Draws Ire of State Lawmakers 4/2/99

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4. Hash Bash Draws Ire of State Lawmakers

Marc Brandl, brandl@drcnet.org
This weekend, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor will host one of the country's longest-running annual marijuana rallies. The event originated as a celebration when local residents voted to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a $5 fine, making Ann Arbor home to one of the most liberal marijuana laws in the United States. The 28th Annual Hash Bash will feature speakers like Tommy Chong and The Emperor Wears No Clothes author Jack Herer, and is expected to draw as many as 20,000 people, depending on the weather. But a bill that recently passed the Michigan Senate threatens to put permanent rain clouds over the rally. S.B. 380 would nullify local ordinances like Ann Arbor's, forcing cities to impose drug penalties as harsh or harsher than those enforced at the state level.

State Senator Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance), who sponsored the bill, made it clear that S.B. 380 is aimed directly at Ann Arbor's law and the Hash Bash in particular. At a press conference last week, she produced several teenagers who told reporters that they had tried marijuana for the first time at past Hash Bash rallies. Hammerstrom later told the Detroit News, "When a local unit of government penalizes an individual with a $25 dollar fine, it is in essence making the statement that this is not an important issue. It is time we send a clear message to our youth that we are serious about the war on drugs and that this is an important issue across the state."

But Adam Brook, a former organizer of the Hash Bash, said he believes that the bill, if passed, will have no effect on the Hash Bash or Ann Arbor's liberal marijuana law. "First of all, campus police have been deputized to enforce the state law, not the Ann Arbor law," he said. "Second, the bill will have no teeth because the law is part of the city's charter and cannot be changed except by a vote of local residents. The lawmakers know this," he said. In 1990, citizens of Ann Arbor voted to keep the law, but raised the fine from $5 to $25.

Linda Wagenheim of the Michigan ACLU says the group will lobby against the bill when it is considered in the Michigan House. "We oppose the bill because it targets Ann Arbors' law, which is a result of a vote of the people," she said. "Law enforcement's finite resources should be spent on better things." But Wagenheim concedes that it will be hard to stop the bill. "It's probably on its way [to passage]. We have a Republican majority in the House and Senate and a Republican governor." A similar law almost passed in the last legislative session, but was dropped because it was not germane to the appropriations bill to which it was attached.

(Editor: The Hammerstrom bill is likely to add fuel to a debate within the reform movement over the issue of marijuana rallies. While some reformers believe the rallies play an important role in bringing advocates together and demonstrating both the large number and peaceful nature of marijuana users, others believe the rallies provide opportunities for the media to put out images that impact negatively on drug policy reform efforts, such as teen marijuana smoking, as well as rhetorical ammunition for politicians like Hammerstrom, who wish to make drug laws harsher.)

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Issue #85, 4/2/99 Announcements | Portland, Oregon Police Called to Account for Surveillance Operation | Two New Polls Show Strong Public Support for Drug Policy Reform | Courts Place Limits on Drug Testing in Workplace, Schools | Hash Bash Draws Ire of State Lawmakers | California Democrats Give Nod to Industrial Hemp | Government Reports: Prison, Drug Use Trends | ACLU: Financial Privacy Update | Editorial: Funding the Unknown Soldier
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