BOSTON – Since its inception in 1989, the Boston Freedom Rally has been an annual tradition for cannabis enthusiasts and civil rights advocates each third weekend in September on the Boston Common, occurring peacefully and with relatively minor disturbances. Beacon Hill residents might have complained about surging crowd size over the past 29 years, but they’ll also likely complain about your toy poodle wearing a cardigan in the wrong color.
Last year’s Freedom Rally may have changed that perception.
After charges that attendees had left the Commons in a state of what Mayor Marty Walsh referred to as an “appalling mess”—including illegally parked cars, a massive amount of litter, and used needles on park grounds—Boston City Councillors Ed Flynn and Josh Zakim filed a request for a hearing on the annual event, citing the potential for illegal activities and suggesting organizers move the event elsewhere. Perhaps to Boylston Street, since there’s a long running history of model behavior from Patriots fans during Super Bowl rallies.
While Flynn and Zakim’s requests were eventually dismissed, this year’s Hempfest has had to scale back this year’s event from three days to only one.
You might argue that the idea of a Hempfest in Boston isn’t just an anachronism, but entirely irrelevant. After a 2016 ballot initiative legalized recreational marijuana use in the state, it might seem like there’s not even any need for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCan)—the festival’s annual sponsor—at all. With even professional athletes promoting CBD as an alternative pain treatment and performance enhancement (an industry reported to be worth $6 billion by 2025,) even public opinion on hemp has been shifted from its non-medicinal use towards its growth as an industry.
“We’re trying to just make sure that people get some good education,” MassCan press secretary Maggie Kinsella told Boston.com earlier this week. “Even though it’s been legalized, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
The Hempfest continues to draw criticism, most recently in light of reports that vaping related incidents have resulted in 380 hospitalized illnesses, including six deaths according to the CDC. Yet, as advocates are quick to point out, those incidents are largely the result of uncontrolled and synthetic CBD agents—a practice proponents are quick to disavow.
Still, the rally provides more than a public celebration of the virtues of cannabis. Live music, education, vendors, food and public speeches on topics including prison reform will be just some of the highlights for supporters and non-partakers alike. Kinsella claims that public stigma remains high for regarding cannabis use, and its the task of MassCan to confront it. She says MassCan volunteers have vowed to spend several hours following the event towards clean up efforts.
“It’s one of the most peaceful rallies that Boston has, and we’d like to keep it that way,” she said. “We just want to see people come and just kind of hang out for the day and learn about cannabis.”
The 2019 Boston Freedom Rally will be held on the Boston Common from 12:00 pm - 8:00 pm on September 21st. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Boston Freedom Rally
Image via Wikipedia, "4:20 during the NORML Marijuana Rally in Boston, MA" 2009