Home Sweet Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.

    When Michael Phelps was caught with a bong, I felt a little hometown pride. He lived in Ann Arbor for four years while attending the University of Michigan, and it was finally rubbing off on him. Battlecreek-based Kellogg’s cereal might have dropped him as a spokesman, but Ann Arbor saw it as proof that the gas-guzzling black Cadillac Phelps drove around town was just a fluke. He was a little subversive like the rest of us.

    Photo courtesy of Albert Yu

    The subversion of embracing weed creates a powerful bond. It’s a bond that has permeated Ann Arbor ever since the ‘70s, when we considered ourselves the “Berkeley of the Midwest.”

    Ann Arbor is famous for its lax marijuana possession penalties. A first-time possession charge is a misdemeanor with a $25 fine, only $5 more than an expired meter – not that anyone I know ever got busted. Unless you walk in front of a daycare center with a joint in hand, it is generally acknowledged that nobody cares.

    During the spring and summer months, advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana stand on corners with petitions, but they aren’t all grizzly hippies. Plenty of middle-aged men in pressed and tucked shirts work beside them.

    It’s this sort of community unity that makes Hash Bash a must-attend event. The yearly celebration of all things cannabis began in 1972 to protest the first state laws that banned weed. Ann Arborites don their favorite piece of tie-dye and march around the downtown. Police line-up beside the crowds to make sure everything runs smoothly while middle school kids prep water balloons to throw at the dowdier hippies.

    Nothing really happens. People walk around, they sit, they pull out a joint. A year ago, a poet who self-medicated with alcohol and weed told me he loved me because he felt we could “sit in silence.” Though it was quickly added to my list of “WTF?” moments, it makes a lot of sense when you watch stoners. But this year might be the end of that camaraderie.

    Hippies of Ann Arbor claimed victory on November 4, 2008. Sure, Obama was elected, but more importantly, medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan. This year’s 39th Hash Bash, held at high noon on the first Saturday of April just as folklore dictated, was a celebration of the law’s passing.

    The day after the event, I got a Facebook invite asking for pictures. The message ended with “get ready for Hash Bash 2010!” but I wonder if The Bash will make it over the hill.

    With the law backing marijuana and attesting to the medicinal properties Lil’ Jon has been preaching all along, where’s the subversion now? You can’t rally for a law that has already passed, and rather resoundingly, too. Imagine a rally celebrating penicillin. You’d just be an asshole.

    Though the legalization of medical marijuana might be a victory for liberal politics, it might not be one for Ann Arbor.

    A friend at Northwestern worried that the majority of his friendships were based on the fact that they did drugs together. I wouldn’t call him a druggie but there’s still something about drugs that creates instant bonds between those who do them.

    Ann Arbor’s drug affinity was our dirty little secret. The rest of Michigan frowned upon us for it, but like knowing what someone’s most embarrassing moment is, we also clicked because of it. But with our subversion gone, what can Ann Arbor rally around now when it isn’t football season?


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