Ann Arbor police chief has message for Hash Bash visitors: ‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic’

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox has a message for cannabis enthusiasts planning to visit town Saturday and attend the Hash Bash smoke-in protest.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic still,” he said, mentioning recent rises in COVID-19 numbers.

Openly smoking marijuana in public is not legal and it’s even less appropriate during a pandemic, Cox said.

“So, I would just ask people to be respectful of each other, their fellow citizens, in this time that we’re in right now,” he said.

While current organizers of the annual Hash Bash marijuana rally in Ann Arbor are planning to hold the event virtually for the second year in a row due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, past organizer Adam Brook is planning what he considers the “official” 50th annual Hash Bash: a smoke-in protest on the University of Michigan Diag at “high noon” April 3.

Even though UM is warning it won’t condone marijuana use on campus, the smoke-in is still a go, Brook said.

“There’s no reason not to be out there on Saturday,” he said. “The weather will be nice. There’s plenty of space for people to social distance.”

Over 760 people have responded to Brook’s “50th Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash” Facebook event page saying they’re “going” while another 1,500 responded “interested.”

Brook said he already smoked a couple joints on the Diag with about half a dozen other people Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the first Hash Bash, which was April 1, 1972. They didn’t have any run-ins with police, he said.

“We were live on Facebook smoking weed. Nobody cares,” he said. “I did not see one university police officer.”

While UM police have authority make arrests for public consumption of marijuana on campus under state law, city police have long been more tolerant.

Ann Arbor decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s, making it a civil infraction punishable by fines, similar to a parking ticket.

As for whether city police may issue civil-infraction tickets on Saturday for public consumption of marijuana in off-campus areas patrolled by the city, Cox said, “We will certainly be out and about, but we expect people to do the right thing. And in a pandemic, we really expect you to do the right thing, so we’re depending on people doing that.”

He added, “I’m not here to threaten anybody or anything else like that. We just want people to do the right thing for the right reasons. We’re a community.”

There wasn’t an in-person Hash Bash in 2020 because the COVID-19 pandemic had just hit, people were being cautious and there was a stay-home order in place.

A year later, there’s no stay-home order, many people have gotten vaccinated and many more have learned to navigate the pandemic with social distancing and masks.

Given those factors, and with local marijuana dispensaries advertising sales on cannabis products, some predict the city could see a return of Hash Bash-related marijuana tourism on Saturday, even if there isn’t a full rally and crowd of several thousand people on the Diag like in years past.

Even though the pandemic is ongoing, people are feeling freer to be out and about, Cox acknowledged.

“And the warmer weather doesn’t help,” he said. “But still if you look at the COVID numbers, they’re going up here in Michigan daily. We are not out of the woods, but people are acting that way. And that’s why I’m encouraging folks to be mindful of we’re in a pandemic and the impact they can have on each other.”

While recreational marijuana sales and consumption are now legal in Michigan, Cox offers this advice: “You can buy it every day of the week, so go take it home and enjoy it there.”

But if anyone does light up in public on Saturday, Cox said, “I hope they smoke through their mask.”

There actually are face masks made with a small hole in them for smoking, Brook said.

Brook said he isn’t fazed by UM’s warning it won’t tolerate pot smoking on campus.

“They’ve never tolerated pot smoking on campus,” he said, though he acknowledged UM police looked the other way on marijuana consumption and sales on the Diag during the last in-person Hash Bash in April 2019.

“But there’s been other years where they haven’t arrested anybody, and there’s been other years where they’ve arrested 200 people,” Brook said.

Saturday’s smoke-in is a protest of marijuana laws, including the prohibition against smoking in public, and it would be a First Amendment violation for police to ask them to leave, he said.

“You have a right to assemble,” he said, adding he doesn’t think police will try to move them along.

“You really think the University of Michigan wants to look bad hauling people off, arresting them for weed, in this day and age?” he said. “I can’t imagine their officers want anything to do with this.”

UM’s Division of Public Safety and Security issued a statement recently saying UM police will be on site to monitor the Diag to provide a safe environment for anyone gathering at the Hash Bash smoke-in, as it would in any similar situation.

“COVID restrictions are still in place on campus,” the statement reads. “It’s essential that everyone do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face coverings, social distancing and limiting gathering sizes.”

The state has COVID-19 orders in place through April 19 limiting non-residential outdoor gatherings to no more than 300 people, with face masks to be worn at all times unless eating or drinking while seated in a designated area in groups of no more than six people, spaced at least six feet apart, and no intermingling.

Brook said he hopes someday the city fully embraces Hash Bash as a festival that brings many visitors to town.


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