by Rick Thompson/June 14, 2019
Remember the old ‘Hanz and Franz’ sketches from Saturday Night Live? They featured a pair of overly-muscular European brothers who constantly offered bodybuilding advice and promised to “Pump (clap) you up!” Woven into their insults and funny encouragements were veiled hints that the brothers used muscle-enhancing steroids to achieve their kissable biceps and manly shoulders.
Michigan’s recreational cannabis laws have been like a constant steroid therapy for the state’s medical marijuana events.
Cases in point: the recent High Times Cannabis Cup in Clio and the Hash Bash/Monroe Street Fair combo from Ann Arbor. Both events allow open consumption of cannabis, have a history from before recreational cannabis and both had record-setting crowds this year.
A single-day Michigan attendance record was set at the Cannabis Cup this past weekend, according to High Times Magazine’s legendary Danny Danko. Although this event always draws thousands of registered patients and caregivers, observers estimate this year’s attendance number at somewhere around 50,000. In fact, people waited four hours and more in the heat to get inside the venue; the venue sold out and reached maximum capacity (a first for HTCC); vendors said it was the best Cup they had ever exhibited at.
Same story for April’s Hash Bash and its associated street party, the Monroe Street Fair. Seasoned journalists and campus employees claimed in media there were 10,000 people who attended the Hash Bash on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and then slid two streets over to enjoy the Fair. That party stretches on for hours, and MSF principal Charlie Strachbein said it was his best crowd ever. Nick Zettell of the Bash said the same thing.
To be sure, Mother Nature played a role in making these events huge. Sun and fine temperatures boosted attendance at the Bash and Fair in April, and similar conditions helped to pump up the crowd on HTCC’s first day. But in fairness, we’ve seen good weather days for these events prior to recreational cannabis being legalized, and the crowds in previous years were nothing like we saw this year.
A boost in attendance at the ‘anyone over 21’ 2019 HTCC was expected, as the venue was in previous years open to only patients and caregivers. Hash Bash, however, has always been open to anyone who wanted to attend. There has never been a cover charge or an identification check at either the Fair or the Bash; these events allow registered medical marijuana patients and caregivers to mingle with unregistered recreational cannabis users.
The Hash Bash/Monroe Street Fair attendance boost seems to be a good barometer of change, since there were no new attendance rules for either event. Last year the Bash featured crowd-pleaser Tommy Chong, a man whose presence boosts the attendance of any event he speaks at. This year the Bash speaking list was less of a draw, featuring first-time notables like Senator Dingell, former Detroit Piston player John Salley and some Ann Arbor City Council members.
The extra attendance means extra economic benefit for the businesses surrounding these venues. Boosts in restaurant and retail sales on the first Saturday in April were directly attributable to the Bash/Fair combo. Thousands of additional festival goers poured into the city- many of whom never made it to the actual Bash or Fair but enjoyed their cannabis-friendly time in beautiful Ann Arbor. Mainstream media confirmed what MILegalize’s Jamie Lowell said about the Bash this year: “There are people everywhere!” This ancillary benefit was described by Hash Bash Cup’s organizer Adam Brook during the Jazz Cabbage Cafe podcast recorded just days before the Bash.
A similar story can be told about the HTCC. Local landowners made a killing on renting parking space for the overflow of automobiles along Dort Highway and Saginaw Streets. Restaurants, hotels and gas stations were full of people who had attended, were waiting to attend or were turned away from the venue. A local Lion’s Club draws revenue from parking lot fees at the Auto City Speedway in Clio. This year’s steroid-like boost in automobile traffic was noted by locals and out-of-towners alike.
Just like taking steroids, hosting these economy-boosting events can become addictive. HTCC has brought two events into Clio’s Speedway every year recently, but in 2019 the second Cup of the year goes to Detroit and the Russell Industrial Complex. Upon hearing the news, a Clio business owner was in great dismay about the venue change.
A Detroit Cup competition and expo sounds exciting, but High Times and Motown have had a rocky history. Perhaps this experience will make the Auto City Speedway more willing to negotiate with High Times for Cups in 2020; perhaps Detroit will prove to be the perfect place for a Cup and the Speedway will never again see a High Times event.
Cannabis-friendly events in Michigan will never again be the same, now that legalization has pumped up the interest from and attendance by recreational cannabis users.