ANN ARBOR, MI — The year was 1975 and America’s war on drugs was underway, and in Ann Arbor left-wing radicals were testing the limits on public acceptance of marijuana.
A controversial cannabis giveaway contest — with a lottery drawing conducted in the presence of the powers that be at Ann Arbor’s city hall in January 1975 — promised a free pound of high-grade “Colombian Gold” to one lucky winner.
The contest was sponsored by the Ann Arbor Sun alternative newspaper and was challenged by Republican Washtenaw County Prosecutor William Delhey, who filed a last-minute lawsuit and went to court to try to stop it, calling it criminal.
Newly elected Washtenaw County Commissioner Catherine McClary, D-Ann Arbor, had the honor of doing the drawing, recruited by the Sun’s editors to legitimize the affair after state Rep. Perry Bullard, D-Ann Arbor, backed out.
“It really truly was a pound of Colombian and it was really good stuff, and it truly was given away,” McClary recalled in a recent interview with The Ann Arbor News/MLive.
The contest came as Ann Arbor’s annual Hash Bash marijuana rally was entering its fourth year and less than a year after city voters — with 52% support — reinstated a $5 fine for marijuana, cementing into the city charter in April 1974 that marijuana possession should be a civil infraction, not a crime.
Delhey, however, was not bound to follow the city charter as county prosecutor and noted marijuana was still an illegal controlled substance under state law.
Less than three hours before the drawing was to take place in front of the Ann Arbor Police Department at city hall on Jan. 24, 1975, Delhey sought a court order against it at the request of the department. When asked why legal action was taken at the 11th hour, Detective Sgt. Raymond Winters told The Ann Arbor News, “We just found out about it.”
Officials said they learned of it the day before.
The prosecutor’s attempt to stop the drawing ultimately failed when Circuit Court Judge William Ager determined the defendants were not properly served. But even if the judge had agreed to halt it, it might have been too late, since the drawing happened just minutes after the court hearing.
McClary, both a University of Michigan student and county commissioner at the time, joined Sun managing editor David Fenton that Friday at city hall, reaching into a large sack labeled “Grade-A Marijuana,” with thousands of contest entries inside, to draw the winner, a UM student whose identity remained secret.
Surrounded by news media, McClary slipped the piece of paper with the winner’s name into her pocket, revealing it to the Sun to arrange the next day’s delivery at the winner’s dorm.
No actual marijuana was on hand at city hall, but McClary later certified the prize was delivered as promised. And while she wasn’t there for the delivery, she told The News at the time, “I will ask the winner if I can have a joint.”
An official from the Michigan attorney general’s office weighed in on whether McClary might be responsible for “a conspiracy to violate the law,” saying that was in question.
“The Grass Gets Greener For One Ann Arborite,” read the headline of a Sun article chronicling the big delivery to the happy winner, who conspired with five hall mates to submit more than 30 entries for the “Win A Pound of Colombian” contest.
“Never having seen such a quantity of reefer before, the winner had only begun smoking the stuff a mere two weeks before,” the Sun reported, predicting “a hell of a good party” at the dorm.
While the original plan had been to do the drawing inside city hall, it ended up taking place outside the first-floor entrance, “but still within easy eyeshot of gazing officers,” Ann Arbor News city government reporter Glen Harris reported.
Fenton said the location changed because “things seemed a little uptight in front of the police station. And it’s a beautiful day outside, so what the hell.”
Police stalked around and brooded, even confiscating a contest poster to be “used as evidence,” the Sun reported.
The pound of marijuana, said to have been purchased for $350, was the top prize in a circulation drive for the Sun, with other prizes including movie tickets and T-shirts. The goal was to boost the paper’s circulation, which was between 8,000 and 9,000, and show the paper’s support for legalizing pot.
The Sun advertised the contest in early January 1975 under the header “The Legendary Weed Contest of 1975,” explaining all people had to do to enter was write their name and address on a piece of paper and send it to the Sun at 603 E. William St. The entry form included options to subscribe to the paper for $2 for four months, $5.50 for one year and $10 for two years.
The Sun concluded attempts to stop the drawing only fueled media interest, giving it wider coverage throughout the state and nation, rejuvenating the legalization movement.
“It bothered me,” Delhey said afterward. “It seems inherently wrong to do this sort of thing.”
Ann Arbor Police Chief Walter Krasny confirmed he wasn’t planning a big investigation into it.
“I don’t think we can make a conspiracy case out of it if we wanted to,” he said. “We didn’t get too excited about it in the first place, but everyone else did so we had to do our thing.”
While there weren’t criminal repercussions for anyone involved, McClary still faced backlash.
County Clerk Robert Harrison wouldn’t recognize her as a county commissioner after the drawing, refusing to include her name in roll calls at the commission’s next meeting, saying she violated her oath of office by participating in the contest. For that, Board Chair Meri Lou Murray, D-Ann Arbor, blasted Harrison and removed him as the board’s parliamentarian.
McClary, who was the youngest commissioner ever elected in the county at 22 and represented a student-heavy district, served 14 years on the board through 1988 and has been county treasurer since first elected to the seat in 1996. The News described her in the 1970s as “a radical, often militant feminist” who “raised every Republican eyebrow on the Board of Commissioners” by participating in the 1975 marijuana giveaway.
Looking back, McClary still talks proudly of her involvement. A self-described radical progressive on social issues, she believed it was time to legalize marijuana then.
“We did it because it was provocatively in front of the police station,” she recalled, noting Sylvester Murray was city administrator and was at city hall that day.
“He came out, he looked at me and he said, ‘Can’t you do this over on your own turf?’” McClary recalled with a laugh. “I think he was serious, but not angry.”
In case anyone still has any doubts if the contest was legit, McClary said she can confirm.
“The woman who won was a student up on North Campus, maybe Bursley Hall, and she was clueless, but she did win it and I did make sure that she got it and everything was above board,” she said. “I think she really didn’t ever expect that somebody was going to drop a pound of marijuana in her dorm.”
MORE FROM THE ANN ARBOR NEWS: