For the first time in its more than 20-year history, the Freedom Rally hosted two days of festivities this weekend instead of a one-day event, but not without some resistance from the City of Boston.
The city denied the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition’s request for a two-day festival this year, but a judge countered the decision just before activities were scheduled to start. MassCann announced the approval via Twitter on Friday.
“It was nearly impossible to get this together,” said Bill Downing, treasurer for MassCann. “For many years, it has been difficult for our event though. Out of the hundreds of events Boston has each year, I think we’re the only one that has to sue the city for a permit.”
The rally, also known as Hempfest, has been a one-day festival in favor of the legalization of marijuana since 1989. In its 24-year history, the rally has always been held on the Boston Common.
After the citizens of the Commonwealth voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and to legalize medical marijuana in 2012, Downing said MassCann chose to host the first two-day festival in 2013 to help fund a statewide initiative for the 2016 ballot to complete legalization.
“One of the tricky public relations issues with these [legalization] initiatives in the past has been that most of the funding comes from out-of-state sources,” he said. “That becomes an argument against us, and we want to be able to gather enough money to be able to say several thousand do come from citizens’ donations.”
Several people at the festival said having high attendance at both days of Hempfest was a good sign for the size of people in favor of legalization of recreational marijuana.
“It’s proof that the people of Boston and the areas around it are trying to be up and coming,” said Nicole Ferrante, 23, a resident of Revere. “People have been talking [as speakers onstage], some former politicians, about how they support it [legalization]. I think it shows how even those who used to be skeptical are coming around to having it legal.”
Not everyone said marijuana should be legalized at the festival. Several people who were in favor of legalization said cannabis should be limited like other regulated drugs.
“It’s no secret the war on drugs has failed,” said Thomas Condon, 67, a resident of Hartford, Conn. “All it has done is create two generations of minor criminals who can’t get jobs because of a drug bust in college. At the same, it [marijuana] can’t just be for anyone. There ought to be education programs, and it could be taxed like liquor. It should be someone’s choice to use it, but it should be informed.”
Downing said the rally’s permit expired at 3 p.m. Sunday, but people planned on staying until about 4:20 p.m., which is a code-term that refers to the consumption of marijuana and a way for people to identify with the drug.
Some of those in attendance said there was no need to confront police because Hempfest’s cause was peaceful. They said the only possible harm for the rally’s cause came from some of Saturday’s speakers.
“Some of them [the speakers] were very ignorant about marijuana,” said an 18-year-old Boston resident who asked to remain anonymous. “They were very angry, and their points were not helpful at all. Most of those here [at Hempfest] are in favor of their cause, but they honestly pissed a lot of us off. I can’t imagine what it could have done for someone who is against legalizing it.”
Despite some minor issues, Downing said Hempfest was a success overall.
“It’s gone very, very well,” he said. “One of the things we’re amazed and humbled and grateful for every year is that everyone here is so cool. We’ve had essentially zero problems because of that.”