Speaking before a crowd on the Boston Common at the 23rd Boston Freedom Rally, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said using marijuana is an individual choice that should not be criminalized.
Frank headlined the list of speakers at the rally, also known as “Hempfest.”
Frank said he has “been fighting for some time for a measure that will reduce crime very substantially” that will not just cost money, but “make money for the government.”
“We can reduce the crime rate by stop treating people as criminals because they have made the decision to smoke marijuana personally,” Frank said.
In an interview with The Daily Free Press, Frank expressed his support for legalizing marijuana.
“I don’t think anybody should be treated as a criminal for it [smoking marijuana],” Frank said.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, or MassCann, ran the rally, partnering with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
Frank told The Free Press that people should register to vote and get informed.
“Find out what the position is of people,” Frank said, “and if nobody that represents you is on the right side, call them up or email them and say, ‘I vote and hope you’ll change your mind, and if you don’t I won’t vote for you.’”
MassCann Treasurer Bill Downing said Frank was coming to help “whip up the supporters.”
“We are putting up a big push on voter registration this year,” he said, referring to Question 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If Question 3 passes, people with certain medical conditions would be able to have up to a 60-day supply of medical marijuana at any given time. Patients with these medical conditions would require written certification from a physician to obtain the medical marijuana supply.
The law would also allow certain certified centers to grow marijuana for medical supply.
Downing said the biggest reason for legalizing marijuana is that “prohibition is just a complete failure.”
If the objective was to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, he said, that has not happened.
Downing said it is easier for kids to acquire marijuana than it is for them to acquire alcohol.
Standing before the crowd at the rally, several speakers spoke on the importance of voting “yes” on Question 3 this November.
“If people vote ‘yes,’ they will greatly reduce the amount of people getting arrested in this state,” said Lt. Jack Cole, a founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Cole also spoke about the increase in marijuana-related arrests in the U.S.
“In 1970, we were arresting back then about 65,000 people per year in this country for non-violent drug offenses,” he said. “By 2005, however, we were arresting 1.9 million people per year.”
Almost half of those arrests were marijuana violations, he said.
Cole said that by doing that, law enforcement “destroyed those folks’ lives.”
“You can get over an addiction, even, but you will never get over a conviction,” he said.
Frank, who is retiring from his post in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, told the crowd that people in politics like to talk about what they can do to reduce crime.
“Sometimes it costs money to reduce crime,” Frank said.
He said marijuana was less dangerous economically, socially and culturally compared to alcohol and tobacco.
“If this was a beer festival, instead of a marijuana festival, the cops would have been a lot busier,” he said, adding that the marijuana issue is one in which the public is ahead of the politicians.
Frank again urged the crowd to go out and vote.
“My bet is that most of you are not in the habit of voting regularly … If everybody here votes this November and gets friends to vote, we will get this changed very quickly,” Frank said.
Students and the NORML Women’s Alliance also took the stage in support of Question 3 and of the legalization of marijuana in general.
“We want to change the world of drugs for the better,” said John Decker of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Rally attendees wore T-shirts emblazoned with phrases such as “Grassachusetts Welcomes You” and “Keep Calm and Hit a Bong.”
Attendees could purchase various pieces of marijuana paraphernalia.
Jane-Ann Bilon of Washington, D.C. attended the rally, and said she was “a hippie from the old days.”
Bilon said marijuana should have been legalized 50 years ago.
“I actually have to use it for sleep,” she said. “It really is good for a lot of medicinal purposes. Also, it is not even nearly as harmful as alcohol.”