by Rick Thompson/April 5, 2022
ANN ARBOR- Free joints were flying off the Hash Bash stage into the crowd. A bicycle-powered cart with a leaf blower inside pushed huge clouds of smoke into the Monroe Street Fair crowd. The state’s largest legacy market cannabis competition gave first place prizes to a well-known cannabis retailer. All these actions during historically illegal market events were managed by companies in Michigan’s highly regulated cannabis marketplace, and all were perfectly legal.
Welcome to the new normal in Michigan.
Each event launched in Ann Arbor during the infamous Hash Bash weekend were above board. Consider:
The Monroe Street Fair is a straight-up cannabis smoke fest taking place on city streets in Ann Arbor. It has been for twenty years. Every year of the Fair the city issues permits for the celebration, blocks off streets and enjoys the thousands of visitors the Fair brings to town. The event dates to before the medical marijuana laws in Michigan were passed in 2008.
Hash Bash celebrated its 51st anniversary this year. The protest and political demonstration takes place on the Diag, a criss-cross of pathways found at the center of the University of Michigan’s home campus. Each year the University issues a permit for the event, the electric usage and sound amplification systems to a student-sponsored group. Hash Bash is another unapologetic free-for-all cannabis experience, one which predates even California’s medical laws passed in the 1990’s.
The Hash Bash Cup is a cannabis competition which originated after the passage of 2008’s medicinal cannabis laws and prior to the creation of regulated market medical dispensaries. It began with competitors who operated in the quasi-legal outlaw markets created between 2008 and the 2017 opening of state-registered medical marijuana dispensaries. The competition culminates in an awards celebration in Ann Arbor, one the city is well aware of. This year, multi-state cannabis operation Cresco Labs won several first-place prizes.
How does a regulated market player insert themselves into a traditionally unregulated market activity? By carefully following the state’s rules and regulations for distribution of cannabis. For example:
Regulated market leader Redemption Cannabis had a tent at the Hash Bash. Franklin Fields’ Missy Jekel tossed pre-rolled joints from the Hash Bash stage into the crowd in an effort to promote the cannabis cultivator’s brand to an otherwise unreachable market segment. This author helped her do it. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency allows registered cannabis companies to distribute trade samples to potential buyers. Sometimes they are delivered by hand, and sometimes by air. No sales of cannabis are allowed at the Bash, and no money exchanged hands.
Exclusive Brands had a huge four-tent setup at the Monroe Street Fair. The regulated market company has four cannabis retail locations across the state. Although there are no sales of cannabis allowed at the Fair, there is that regulation regarding trade samples. Sometimes the trade samples are pre-rolls, sometimes, it’s raw cannabis flower. Sometimes the cannabis flower is handed out in pre-packaged eights, and sometimes it is loaded into a special burner hooked up to a leaf blower and passers-by try the samples by inhaling clouds of free smoke. No money exchanged hands, and everyone at the Monroe Street Fair is already exposed to voluminous second-hand smoke created by the thousands of 420-loving visitors.
Michigan’s adult-use cannabis laws allow gifting of cannabis from one adult to another, up to two and one-half ounces per gifting. If a person purchases cannabis and then gifts it to a competition like the Hash Bash Cup, they can legally do so; if the organizers then re-gift the cannabis to judges, who consume it and report their findings, that is also allowable under state law.
This melding of traditional legacy market events and the multi-billion dollar regulated industry is perhaps more overt in 2022 but it’s certainly not a new development.
For years, members of Ann Arbor’s City Council have visited the Monroe Street Fair and spoken at Hash Bash while standing in clouds of cannabis smoke. In 2018 Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and future governor Gretchen Whitmer were at the Bash and stood on stage while I smoked fat joints next to them. That same year then-candidate for Attorney General, Dana Nessel, made an appeal for cannabis voters to help her achieve office. This year that same woman, who is now Michigan’s A.G. and the state’s top cop, made another appearance at the Bash and praised attendees for their commitment to improving Michigan’s economic outlook. Instead of attending this year, Congresswoman Dingell sent a message of support for the cannabis industry which was read at the Bash, too.
All these events took place in Washtenaw County, where a progressive prosecutor was elected with a great deal of help from the cannabis community. Prosecutor Eli Savit spoke at the Bash, just like the Attorney General, and also thanked cannabis consumers for their many contributions. After his Hash Bash appearance, Mr. Savit spent hours at the Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party’s booth at Monroe Street; rumor has it he was dosed by Exclusive’s rolling smoke machine as it passed by. Knowing Mr. Savit, I’m sure he found it interesting but not law-breaking.
On April 2, the day of this year’s Hash Bash and coordinated events, the Prosecutor’s Office posted this message on Twitter:
Today, our office and the Michigan Democratic Party Cannabis Caucus will be out at #HashBash from 2-6 PM! We’ll be providing *free* criminal expungement eligibility checks–and *free* assistance for Washtenaw convictions! Drop by Monroe Street in Ann Arbor and say hi!
Yes, the Prosecutor of Washtenaw County promoted a smoke-fest protest and a 420-filled street Fair. And after, his office posted this:
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of addressing Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash. Our office also had a booth providing free expungement assistance. So much progress has been made—but there’s more to do. Cannabis must be decriminalized federally. And old cannabis convictions must be expunged.
Michigan’s cannabis industry is far in advance of other states, as measured by market maturity and volume of cannabis sales, but there’s another metric by which Michigan is a national leader. The integration of legacy market events with licensed and regulated cannabis companies, plus the participation of the state’s top elected officials, makes the Great Lakes State a standout in the American cannabis experience.