Boston Freedom Rally attendees relax the day-long festival on the Boston Common (Kallen Bowers)
Boston Freedom Rally attendees relax the day-long festival on the Boston Common

Kallen Bowers

Cannabis fans hit the jack-pot at 30th annual Boston Freedom Rally

September 24, 2019

Cannabis enthusiasts from around the country rolled into the Boston Common this past Saturday to promote marijuana rights and cultivation. In its 30th year, the Boston Freedom Rally has become the second-largest cannabis celebration in the country.

Under sunny skies and scorching heat, thousands of rally goers flooded into the park to listen to music, browse the dozens of vendors and enjoy the crop that they celebrate.

Adults young and old laid out on colorful blankets, pulled out multi-color glass pipes from their backpacks and created a foggy haze that shrouded the Common.

Times have changed for the three-day bash that used to dominate Beacon Hill during the third weekend of every September. After complaints from residents that the Common was left in a “trash heap” after last year’s Rally, organizers have scaled down the gathering into a one-day event.

Opponents have also made the case to move the Rally to the Boston City Plaza in order to lessen the impact on the Common. In response, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCan) has committed to a more thorough cleanup effort after the Rally ends, with crews working through the night to make sure every piece of trash is collected.

Kallen Bowers
Cannabis vendors set up shop for thousands of customers on the Boston Common Sept. 21

“This park has always been an important place for free speech,” said Ian R., an activist who has been attending the event for 25 years. “They just want to take it out of the public eye.”

MassCan and the organizers of the event said that for the first time in the event’s history, the act of smoking marijuana on the Common was an act of true civil disobedience.

Even though the vote in 2016 to consider marijuana a recreational substance in Mass. passed, it is still illegal to smoke any substance in Boston City Parks. Citizens over 21 are permitted to carry up to an ounce of cannabis on their person, as long as they have no intention of selling it.

Tree Shurts, a T-shirt design team headed by Gabe N., had their tent swarmed with people looking to show their support for the company. Having traveled all the way from Arizona for this now one-day event, people who sacrifice time and travel expenses to be in Boston are feeling the strain of the shortening.

“It sucks for a lot of us out of towners. But it’s still an amazing time, we’re having a lot of fun,” said Gabe N.

The marijuana culture and community is a tight-knit one, and companies like Tree Shurts look forward to the event all year.

“The people here are the best, they make me feel at home. It’s refreshing to be surrounded by a ton of like-minded people,” said Gabe N.

While the sale of cannabis is not allowed at the rally, a legal gray area has allowed vendors to still distribute marijuana in quantities less than an ounce. The loophole that is “gifting” allows vendors to sell a run of the mill hat for $60, with most of the money going toward a marijuana purchase.

Some vendors were more subtle than others, with tables chock-full of weed jars being sold for cash. There was very little police presence within the festival, but arrests are guaranteed to happen every year. MassCan wants to make clear that most patrons who use marijuana are not likely to be approached by the police.  “…in other words, even in the worst years of arrests, well more than 99% of the attendees suffered no problems,” reported the FAQ section of the MassCan Website.   

As one of the most public displays of free speech in the city, plans to keep the Boston Freedom Rally on the Common next year are in the works as the discussion around a federal law to legalize recreational cannabis use nationwide is still whirring.

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