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Posted on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

'Tumultuous' vote in Ann Arbor results in $5 marijuana law that's lasted 4 decades

By Robert Faber

Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for about aging, politics and other issues.

In 1969, for the first time in 30 years and in keeping with the nation’s highly-charged atmosphere of radicalism accompanying the Vietnam War, Ann Arbor elected a liberal mayor (Bob Harris) and a Democratic majority to City Council.

The town, like university communities throughout the country, was struggling through a tumultuous period of rebellion — its youth aggressively seeking new directions, demanding new approaches, voicing new objections to some of the routines that had long been accepted behavior.

The primary focus, of course, was the war in Vietnam, but an increasingly turbulent issue was the illegal possession and use of marijuana. “Reefer Madness” had by then grown from a movie classic to a community commonplace, with Ann Arbor’s population divided into passionate partisans on both sides of the issue. What the older generation saw as a fruit of the Devil was accepted by the young as a harmless indulgence, not much removed from a glass of wine before dinner.

1973 Hash Bash 2.JPG

1973 Hash Bash.


Some of us were less concerned about the harmful consequences of the product itself than with the damage accruing to its classification as a felony, concerned that by legally and socially equating it with heroin and cocaine, for example, we were dangerously dimming the distinctions between them.

We were fearful, too, that the criminalization of such a minor infringement of the law might have a seriously negative impact on the lives of those youngsters as they grew into adulthood. So in March, 1971, we proposed a new legal status for marijuana, making its use or possession a minor misdemeanor.

The city election a month earlier had brought to the Council two members of the Human Rights Party, a radical group of activist young rebels whose votes were necessary for passage of the Marijuana Ordinance. The proposal called for a penalty of $9, the lowest fine for criminal behavior currently on the city’s books, so presumably the least provocative. The HRP, however, had a different agenda and insisted on a fine of 25 cents.

We finally compromised at $5, where it remained until 1990, when the fine for the first offense was raised to $25.

The town, not surprisingly, was split between the more conservative, older population and the general University of Michigan-oriented community of teachers, students and friends.

The night of the council debate and final vote was tumultuous. The council chamber was packed with raucous community members from both sides of the issue, but given the political makeup of the council, the vote was predictably positive. The community reaction, however, was not.

Although the younger and university-connected members of the audience were pleased, the townspeople in attendance were furious and the yelling was long and loud. One member of the audience, for example, a very pleasant and friendly neighbor of mine, was so shaken by the passage of the ordinance that she ran up to me after the vote, crying bitterly and through her tears yelled, “Bob, you have ruined our city.”

(A very sad sidebar to this story was that not long afterward she was diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer, leaving her in constant pain. I never knew the details, but I do recall that one of her daughters regularly made pans of cookies for her — laced with marijuana to help relieve that pain. My neighbor not only welcomed the gift, but learned to rely on it as her only effective source of relief. After about a year or so she did die from the cancer, but I recall her gratitude for the comfort meanwhile granted by her daughter’s cookies.)

1973 Hash Bash 3.JPG


Shortly after the ordinance went into effect, throngs of young supporters gathered on the university campus to celebrate the passage of the ordinance, initiating what came to be known — and revered — as the Hash Bash, an annual event to honor “Mary Jane’s” new status.

And despite the size and enthusiasm of the crowd over the years, I am unaware of any seriously negative incidents.

In 1976, for example, an estimated 6,000 celebrants attended — smoking, singing, partying — but with no attendant violence. And once in 1984 the police showed up to quiet a particularly loud and unruly crowd, but again there was no trouble beyond the noise.

It is now four decades later. The Hash Bash crowds are small, the enthusiasm muted and the violence still absent. Meanwhile, use and possession of marijuana remains a crime (although socially and legally only a minor one), while its use as a legal and acceptable medical treatment seems to be expanding, albeit slowly. There are now 16 states in which the use of marijuana as a source of pain relief has been accepted by each state’s government and its medical community, although the federal government has yet to take a position on the issue.

And yes, the times they are a’changin’ — for both Bob Dylan and Mary Jane.

Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at



Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

"Marijuana acceptance slowly expanding " yea, as the dope fiends give it to the children.


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

The people who bring you Marijuana kill people, their blood is on your hands.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 1:13 a.m.

buy local medicine then. stop supporting off-shored / out-sourced entities.

Rudra N Rebbapragada

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

Cannabis indica - Hemp plant : I had lived in India where these plants naturally grow and we had several of these plants just outside our military camps. There were no specific penalties to prohibit the use of cannabis. But, the men of my Unit never bothered to use it. I had also served in military Units outside India where Cannabis is not part of the natural environment. Some men smoked it and it was a problem. I had a chance to compare the behavior of these young men whom I had encountered in two different places. The motivation or drive to use cannabis is related to the internal mental condition of finding satisfaction in life.

Madeleine Borthwick

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

Robert, thank you for this well-written article. this is something of a personal issue for me, as one of my children has a back problem(see: degenerative disc disease)that four, yes four surgeries have not been able to resolve. her only way of managing her pain in a way that doesn't mess with her liver/kidney function is a hot shower and a joint. I dare ANYONE to tell me that she has no right to do this. if you lived with the kind of pain that she has to deal with on a daily basis, you might well change your mind. PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. it never has and I strongly suspect it never will.

Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

history .. over the ages .. across teh planet .. proves you right. anyone available to demonstrate that prohibition works? start here: prohibition > "Soviet law required that no grain from a collective farm could be given to the members of the farm until the government's quota was met." (you grow it but are PROHIBITED from consuming it until it is sufficiently TAXED - and, someone else will spread around those TAXES by fiat) success > "one of Stalin's lieutenants in Ukraine stated in 1933 that the famine was a great success. It showed the peasants 'who is the master here. It cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay'." ( ) success > i can do without that. prohibition > "First and foremost, (prohibition) advocates must emphasize that in a free society, the burden of proof should be on prohibitionists to justify the interference with (individual, personal) liberty that results from outlawing (XXX), a burden the prohibitionists have never met. "Ancillary benefits of legalization are naturally important: by eliminating the black market, legalization promises reduced crime and corruption, fewer infringements on civil liberties, better quality control, along with budgetary benefits. But these considerations are unlikely to convince the majority until more people agree that government should NOT INTEFERE (emp added) in the private decision to consume (substances for their individualistic reasons)." Jeffrey A. Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

David Johnson

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I was always told that smoking marijuana would ruin your life. What I wasn't told was that it is the criminality and prosecution, not the marijuana, that would be ultimately responsible for the destruction of a life. I believe that Ann Arbor is a great town with great people that can do great things. This story is an example of a community being able to see through fear-speak and doing something on their own. Thanks for writing it.

Stuart Brown

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:46 a.m.

Skyjockey43 said, "It's far more dangerous to climb Mt Everest than it is to smoke a joint. If you're going to criminalize weed, you might as well criminalize mountain climbing. " If the people who climb Mt Everest had a propensity to be a threat to the powers-that-be, yes it would be illegal to climb Mt Everest. This is the point most people on this list don't get; the drug war is working exactly as intended--mission accomplished! Laws prohibiting cannabis are a great way for the government to mess with people the government does not like. The fact a significant part of the population is in jail and organized crime is booming is exactly what the government wants.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 3:38 a.m.

Intriguing that somebody so involved with the ordinance would not know that it is actually a civil infraction and not a misdemeanor "crime".


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:27 a.m.

The belief that someone else should pay for the things I want is also expanding. Is either really a good thing?


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

Having never used any illegal substance in my life, but having also participated in several joint US Navy/Coast Guard drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean, I have to say that the criminalization of drugs (mostly marijuana) has not only NOT made drugs any more difficult to attain, but has really only served to 1) create a very lucrative criminal production and distribution system utilizing violence at all levels 2) fill up prisons with drug offenders making it more difficult to keep truly violent criminals where they belong for their full sentences, and 3) wasted billions of dollars in the process. I've said this about gun control and I'll say this about drug control. Making something illegal DOES NOT MAKE IT GO AWAY. It only moves it underground and makes it more expensive. Stop wasting our taxpayers money on this useless drug war. What someone wants to do to their own body is their own business. It's far more dangerous to climb Mt Everest than it is to smoke a joint. If you're going to criminalize weed, you might as well criminalize mountain climbing.

David DeSimone

Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 5:09 a.m.

The right-wing conservative 'base' needs to hear more of this. I'm sure Mitt romney has never heard of LEAP

Steve McQueen

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

Either way, you are going to get High.

Joey Ismail

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

Legalize, tax, regulate, and end the mindless stupidity.

Rudra N Rebbapragada

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

Human Behavior and Human Nature: The use of substances for mental stimulation, mental recreation, and relaxation is related to the problem of finding psychological satisfaction, and mental contentment as a living experience. We are simply enacting laws without examining the human needs. It is my impression that, if man is satisfied, he would not have cravings for tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs. The sense of boredom or the need for fun and excitement could be related to the state of contentment. The pursuit of happiness becomes the quest of an individual and by imposing penalties the need for happiness may not go away. We need an approach that helps to promote happiness and contentment in life.

Madeleine Borthwick

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Blah, Blah, Blah.

Bryan Ellinger

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 4:22 a.m.

Far out, man.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

I am still kind of surprised that we are still talking about this. There really isn't any good reason for it to be illegal although because it is illegal and thus can't be farmed by actual farmers in fields and such, it has turned out to be a valuable safety net /job opportunity for people who otherwise might have needed public assistance. Pot growers can sell for $200-$300 an ounce and that means they can earn a living growing indoors. I've known one or two people who managed to get by after their unemployment benefits ran out because of this but that is the only positive to it being illegal that I can think of.

Robert Faber

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

My apologies. Old truths, like old minds, are not always as reliable as current conditions demand. My recollections of the marijuana ordinance almost a half-century after its introduction were narrowly focussed on that moment, blind to its subsequent changes. I was wrong. The $5 fine has grown with the times to its current $50. Bob Faber

Angry Moderate

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

The ordinance doesn't make possession of marijuana "misdemeanor." It decriminalizes it--it's not any crime, misdemeanor or felony. It's a civil infraction, more like a traffic ticket. Of course, this doesn't apply on state property (U of M), and doesn't reduce a criminal charge for driving under the influence, distributing marijuana, etc.

Dog Guy

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Bob Faber has long been part of the fabric of Ann Arbor.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

$5, $25, $50, $100 fine. The underlying truth to the matter is that law enforcement has taken to profiteering. They make BIG money on busting pot, that is why it will never be legal. Both through cash grabbed in a raid and/or property seizure. If this is not conflict of interest, I don't know what is! The law should not be in the business of busting for profit, or at the very least, they should be made to give up the seized money/property to charity. Those recent raids on a local one charged, no money returned...speaks volumes!!


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 3:44 a.m.

If you were to get stopped by a police officer and given a civil infraction citation for possession of marijuana under city code, the officer would then have to: take your marijuana to weigh it, document it, and enter it as evidence issue you a ticket write a report Even IF you actually paid the fine, it would likely not cover the man-hours involved in enforcing the ordinance.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

More harm is done to society by the Drug War than the harm done by people smoking pot. End the madness, legalize it.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

Given the seemingly lare amount of evidence that synthetic marijuana (or, "K2") and alcohol have the potential to be significantly more dangerous - especially to one's health - I am in favor of decriminalizing the real stuff.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

Thank you Mr Faber, always enjoy your columns. Times they are a changing...just not fast enough to catch up to 2012. Wake up people...After years of the failed "drug war" and Nancy Reagan's "Just say no" soundbites...haven't we all realized that this is a harmless PLANT that grows naturally in the earth and no amount of prohibition will stop people from growing, harvesting, and smoking it.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

And you can smoke as much as you want EYeheart, no law prevents it.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

Poison Ivy is a PLANT that grows naturally in the earth too..........


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

One of the things never brought up about Marijuana is that you smoke it! Smoking causes Health Problems! I guess it doesn't matter now that we have Obamacare because everything is going to be free but if we had to pay for it things might be different!

Steve McQueen

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

Using a Vaporizer solves any of those concerns, valid or not.

Joey Ismail

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 6:09 p.m.

Marijuana has never been linked to lung cancer, you don't have any idea what you're ranting and raging about.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

tobacco contains thousands of chemicals, 60+ of which are know carcinogens. I don't believe marijuana contains these... not sure about other smoking related lung diseases...

Angry Moderate

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Why don't you try reading real medical studies, written by doctors and scientists, instead of making stuff up? There is NO relationship between smoking marijuana and increased risk of lung cancer.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Brownies, Alice B Tolkas style.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

One question is smoking Marijuana worse than breathing the mercury laden air from a coal fired power plant, the benzene rich vapors you see emanating from the gas pump as you fill up your tank, or the multitude of other KNOWN hazard we accept without question? Besides don't you mean RomneyCare or Heritage Foundation Care, as they are the sources of Obamacare as you call it.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

One word. Ridiculous.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

I've heard that University Police enforce the state law, rather than the city ordinance. Is there any truth to this?

David DeSimone

Sat, Aug 18, 2012 : 4:35 a.m.

The University used to just have campus security until some republican regents asked the state to let them have their own campus police force. I have dealt with the campus cops once and let me tell u they are a**holes compared to the more professional Ann Arbor PD. AAPD has better things to do than try to bust people for pot. I am from Wayne County so was familiar but was sad to see so many out-of-towners (and out of state) being arrested by campus police the first Hash Bash that the UM gestapo pulled their law-an-order crap. For quite awhile now the Bash organizers have been warning people but that first year it was bad...resulting in (I believe 1993) the event was held off-campus.


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 2:31 a.m.

@Eye Ooohhh.....Did you forget the sarcasm font?


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

Sorry EyeHeart, you beat me to it


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

The UM does not enforce state law but rather federal law. Because of that, the campus police do not care if you have a medical marijauna card. They can arrest you or more commonly if you are not a UM student they will give you a trespass warning and ban you from campus. The reason for this is that the UM recieves more than a $billion in federal grants and they must assure the federal government that they are a "drug free workplace". One of the unanticipated consequences of the AA ordninance was the establishment of the campus police department. The University needed a police force that would enforce federal law and AA police would not do so. They lobbied the state legislature for a law that would allow them to have there own police force. There were huge student protests against establishing an independent police force but the University did it anyway.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

Julie: I think I got it right: 1. interweb A sarcastic term for the internet. Often used in the context of parody regarding an inexperience, unskilled, or incoherent user.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

Eye...The word is Internet...not Interweb.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

Evidently, Mr Faber does not have access to the interweb, or I'm sure he would have included this tidbit and got the facts right on the $5 fine the first time around: "Ann Arbor has very lenient laws regarding the possession of marijuana–a $25 fine for the first offense, a $50 fine for the second offense, and a $100 fine for the third (and subsequent) offense—and is a simple civil infraction rather than a criminal offense, such as misdemeanor or felony (see Cannabis laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan). Even so, the campus of the University of Michigan sits upon state property, and so anyone caught with marijuana on any campus location is subject to the more strict state marijuana laws. In addition, since state law takes precedence over municipal law, many people are prosecuted under state law regardless of where in Ann Arbor they are located"

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

The story has been edited to reflect the fact that the $5 fine was raised to $25 in 1990.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

This is nitpicky, but it will only be a matter of time before multiple people jump on it anyway. The title of the column doesn't really work anymore now that the detail about the $5 law has been changed. The "lasted for 4 decades" part seems incorrect as worded.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

In other "news" with roughly the same accuracy and timeliness as the $5 penalty that is "still in place today": "Dewey defeats Truman" Anyway, who ever said MJ was bad for your memory must have been high on something.

Jose Gonzales

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 11:54 a.m.

Marijuana didn't make Steve Jobs lazy and he smoke a lot of it. The illegality of marijuana is what makes people hide from doing anything productive while under the influence. If you want to end laziness, end it being illegal so people don't have to smoke in hiding.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

For every Steve Jobs there are a hundred adults that never left their parents lazy. Weed can, without a doubt, make you lazy. Doesn't mean it should be illegal though.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

I don't think you realize how many people out there are high all day everyday... Most regular smokers go out in public "under the influence" and you'd have no idea.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

Good article. Marijuana is not without it's health drawbacks. It can make you lazy, it can make you fat, it can make you paranoid, it can make you anxious, and smoking anything can't be good for you. It can also stimulate the appetite of AIDS and cancer patients, it can create good times, it can create a great buzz. It can be a hell of a lot of fun. I supposedly live in a free society and I should, of all things, be able to smoke weed if I want to, even if I don't have cancer or AIDS. I'm not sayin' that I do, I'm just sayin.' PS - it's early in the morning and I may have missed something, but the fine is 25 dollars, not 5 dollars. Add court costs and the total fine is 47 dollars and some change, at least it was in 1998. Speaking from personal experience? Yup. I believe the fine changed from 5 to 25 in 1990 or thereabouts.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Correct, the total amount you pay is just under $50 bucks. They even give you a nice "itemized" receipt to show you where exactly each dollar goes. Also speaking from experience......Hi Ms. Vonk.