The 24th Annual Boston Freedom Rally took place this weekend on the Boston Common. Sponsored by MassCann NORML, the event spanned two days for the first time ever, but not without another round of battles with city officials eager to squelch the free speech rights of the marijuana legalization movement.
Prior Freedom Rallies had faced city officials who would deny permits or demand all proceeds be redirected to the Boys & Girls Club, only to be rebuffed four separate times in the courts when ACLU attorneys reminded the city of Boston that the First Amendment is still in force in the birthplace of American democracy.
This time, city officials claimed MassCann surprised everyone with a request for two days of permits. The city said they wouldn’t have enough police presence to handle the event, which has been a safe and trouble-free celebration for two dozen years. MassCann went to court and secured an injunction; however, they had to cut two hours from Saturday and three hours from Sunday, ending the second day at 3pm. Speakers and bands had to be shuffled to get as many onstage as possible.
Saturday at the Freedom Rally was a beautiful late summer Massachusetts day with tens of thousands of attendees in the Common. Hundreds of vendors lined the crisscrossing pathways through an American public space that’s been a part of our heritage since 1631. With marijuana decriminalized last year, many people felt safe toking up as they relaxed on the hill overlooking the vending areas and two stages. The scents of cinnamon roasted almonds, barbecue chicken and stir-fired veggies from food vendors mixed with the skunky sweet smell of joints and blunts as visitors shopping for connoisseur glass, 420 lifestyle clothing and legalization information walked the same paths our Founders once trod. Freedom was in the air in Boston!
One major difference we noted on the East Coast is that 7:10 is still about an hour away. While people are quite aware of cannabis concentrates, the “dab life” culture that is so prevalent in the West isn’t quite here yet. We saw folks with vapor pens, but the torches and oil rigs that we see in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado were kept well hidden. The tokers on the East Coast seemed content with joints and small glass pipes, the better to keep hidden from unfriendly law enforcement.
Speakers from MassCann and numerous international VIPs addressed crowds of thousands throughout the day. NORML’s Keith Stroup called on activists to push Massachusetts into the legalization column for 2016. Canada’s Jodie Emery explained how the United States took her husband Marc to cripple the funding for legalization, but we’re legalizing anyway. Cheryl Shuman from Beverly Hills was joined by Sharon Ravert from Georgia and Lisa Calvin from Iowa onstage calling for moms to protect the children by fighting for legalization. Diane Fornbacher from Ladybud magazine explained how prohibition is hurting families and how women are finally energizing the once-male dominated movement. HIGH TIMES’ own Danny Danko motivated everyone to get active and involved and Rick Cusick emphasized that just a few years ago, he’d been arrested at this very event for something he cannot be arrested for now, thanks to activism. Jack Cole from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition explained how as a drug war cop, his work did nothing to end drug use and drug dealing and that only legalization can reduce the harms of drugs.
Following Saturday’s activities, VIPs spent the evening at a private party in Boston in a seventh-floor walkup. Deejays spun old school hip-hop and new beats as activists networked. We ran into hash queen Mila from The Netherlands, Stacia Cosner from SSDP and Kris Krane formerly from SSDP, David Kowalsky from Cannabis Network Radio and Dan Rush from United Food & Commercial Workers Union. Cara Crabb-Burnham, Bill Downing, Dr. Keith Saunders and others from MassCann welcomed everyone and celebrated with a custom (non-medicated) 24th Freedom Rally cake.
On Sunday the activists and vendors charted new territory by opening up the second day of the Freedom Rally. It was only scheduled for three hours starting at noon, but bands and speakers packed a lot of entertainment and information into those hours. As three-o’clock high approached, Boston Police started walking from vendor to vendor telling them to shut it down.
However, the freedom fighters at the rally weren’t about to let some artificial deadline shut down out free speech and assembly rights, especially without ending the day with a 4:20 celebration. Undeterred, the New England activists joined with directors from NORML New Jersey and Philly NORML to continue the celebration after the power was cut at 3pm. Chris Goldstein and N.A. Poe, fresh from their Smoke Down Prohibition rallies at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, used that organizational experience and marshaled attendees and speakers to the gazebo stage to begin some old fashioned soap-box speeches.
Soon, enough of a crowd had formed to listen to Chris, N.A., myself, Mike Cann, The King of Pot, Keith Saunders, and others lose our voices shouting to the people without amplification. We then moved everyone to “Mount Mary Jane,” the hill in the center of the Common where even larger crowds had gathered. Now armed with a bullhorn, Danny Danko, David Kowalsky, Mickey Martin and others exhorted the couple thousand people who remained in the crowd to stay with us. Before we knew it, Rick Cusick was standing at the top of the hill counting Boston down to 4:20 and a huge cloud of freedom smoke wafted over the hallowed ground where our forefathers invented America.
Boston Freedom Rally, despite all the political hurdles, was a huge success. MassCann NORML put on a world-class event, the biggest hempfest on the East Coast, and next year promises to be an even better event -- with two full days of celebration free from municipal obstruction. Visit MassCann.org to contribute your volunteer effort or monetary donations for the Boston Freedom Rally Silver Anniversary next year!