Whatever happened to: Hash Wednesday

Today, we update you on people and places from the recent past and decades ago. Here, Hash Wednesday:

Then

With the click of a lighter, Hash Wednesday was born on the University of Illinois Quad in 1977. It was modeled after other "hash bashes," particularly the one in Ann Arbor, Mich., which supported reform of marijuana laws, according to co-founder Mitch Altman. He and fellow UI student Bruce Bethell chalked sidewalks for a week leading up to the event; they had no idea how many people would come. The UI's inaugural "sunning and smoking" event drew about 100 people and quickly grew in popularity in the following years. Students pitched tents, tossed Frisbees, strummed guitars and sold T-shirts. Oh, and passed joints.

By the late 1980s, it drew big crowds and police hauled off some youths to jail for various charges.

"Back in the day it was quite the event. It's a lot like what Halloween celebrations were like in the '80s and '90s: harmless to begin with, but then we had to close streets because people would come from hundreds of miles away," said UI Deputy Police Chief Skip Frost, who joined the UI police in 1988.

Now

Good luck trying to light up anywhere near the Quad. The university has banned smoking of any kind on the Quad and elsewhere on campus. In the last decade, Hash Wednesday celebrations died down. And there are no registered student organizations related to the event.

As Frost pointed out, "A lot of what they were trying to accomplish is being accomplished" with the legalization of medical marijuana in many states (including, as of this year, Illinois) and allowing recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

Altman, who went on to invent the TV-B-Gone, a little universal remote that turns off televisions, focuses his time on creating community hacker spaces. He will return to campus early next month as a resident artist at Allen Hall.

Altman says ...

"Pot is a powerful drug and causes problems," said Altman, who admits to smoking too much as a youth. "But having it be illegal doesn't help people. Going to jail doesn't help, but hurt people."

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