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Boston Freedom Rally Recap - Freedom Flight

Oct 25, 2018 03:27PM ● By Dan McCarthy
When the 2018 Boston Freedom Rally weekend came to a close in September, it marked nearly three decades of cannabis activism, peaceful civil disobedience, and overall cannabis community engagement on a regional scale.

Depending on who you talk to, estimates of the three day turnout are anywhere from tens of thousands per day to over 100,000 in total (organizers don’t keep official track as there’s no gated entrance area to monitor foot traffic). Given that kind of open-air-festival body count, that there was nary an issue is a testament to the event itself. There was even an on-stage marriage proposal between speeches and music. Nice.

But before the rally took place this year, preemptive cries from the posh surrounding residential homeowners via the Friends of the Public Garden one of the oldest public-private partnerships in the nation and various other neighborhood groups emerged as they have every year to various degrees.

In a public letter in July titled, “Speaking Out About Hempfest,” the Friends of the Public Garden issued a missive targeting issues like trash and vendors and attendees disrespecting the park, leaving refuse in their wake. As always, many in the community lambasted the letter and the general NIMBY tenor, calling for comparisons to the state of the park after things like holiday celebrations, any given Duck Boat parade for whichever sports team just won what, and pointing out that most park officials will tell you dog urine and unchecked fecal droppings from Boston’s furry friends contributes to far more consistent and long term damage to the park than a bunch of people gathering to celebrate a plant. After the rally, it was even suggested that the gathering was the source of used hypodermic needles discovered in the park. Sure. For weed.

“This event is tantamount to an occupation of the Common, which feels under siege by the huge number of tents, vendors, people smoking marijuana, and loud and profane music and speeches from the stage,” crowed the Friends of the Boston Common in the letter. A representative also told Boston.com the rally “has been a frustration to local residents, who’ve allegedly complained about everything from public urination to slashed tires.” Vizza was quoted as saying, “The park, when they leave, is a complete trash heap.”

Martyn Roetter, chairman of the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay, was also quoted, saying, “It’s pretty unpleasant for tourists…who find themselves in the midst of this event.”

MassCann press secretary Maggie Kinsella responded, “At the end of the day, their bias is against cannabis and nothing else.” And in any other year that would be on the nose. But unfortunately this year, the accusation, as it related to the trash aspect, held weight.

But by the time most people were finishing their final dabs in the Summit Lounge sponsored 21+ VIP lounge perched atop the Parkman Bandstand before heading off to the various after parties peppering the Hub or the official after party at Down The Road Brewing in Everett, social media began chronicling the sad scene on the Common lawn.

Particular vendors who Kinsella has said will not be invited back next year were highlighted for the mountains of garbage and refuse left behind in their areas, and MassCann sent out a viral post putting those vendors on indirect blast and calling for volunteers still on site as well as others available the next morning to step in and help pick up.

The Boston Globe later reported that representatives from the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform coalition “acknowledged that several vendors had failed to clean up, as required, and said they were prepared to meet with neighbors and offer concessions, including having beefed-up cleaning crews, tougher sanctions against vendors that leave trash, fencing to segregate the event from the rest of the Common, and a reduction in the length of the event to one or two days.”

Mayor Walsh, long an opponent of legal weed along with Gov. Charlie Baker and various pols leading up to the 2016 election and ballot vote that legalized recreational adult use cannabis, offered his two cents to the paper, calling the aftermath “appalling and unacceptable”.

Kinsella also told the Globe: “It belongs on the Boston Common...it’s the symbolic home of freedom and free speech. And it’s a matter of principle we have a right to be there. We get our permits and go through the same process everybody else does.”

But some of the dicier elements of this year’s rally were on full blast as well. While the speeches and music blared, this year was marked with arguably the most brazen cannabis-related lawbreaking at the annual event, noted by many at and after the event.

National cannabis news and information resource Leafly, which had a booth and presence in the 21+ educational village, sent some of its Pacific Northwest staff to get a sense of the Northeast scene. Editor Ben Adlin told me, after I gave him a whiff of ground Moose N Lobster + Blue Crack procured from a craft grower in northern New England, “I have been consistently amazed at the quality of flower out here.”

In their scrolling day-by-day dispatch of the event, Leafly made note of the reality on the ground regarding sales and consumption as they witnessed it. “On sales: outside the 21+ area, vendors are dishing out free dabs, passing out pre-rolls, and offering baggies of bud for (fairly reasonable) cash ‘donations’,” Leafly reported.

“What we did this year was we put the vending out to various concession groups, and we put on all the music and education village,” said MassCann president Bill Flynn. “We pass on to vendors that it’s not legal to sell cannabis at the rally, and people do get caught doing it, but they’re going to push the limit. We don’t condone it though.”

While it’s never been hard to procure medicine while at the event, that’s never been what the day was meant for. “The rally is ultimately about educating the public on cannabis and prohibition, and what prohibition has done through bad laws that need to be spoken out against,” says Flynn. “It’s always been an event based on education, community, and civil disobedience.”

Nevertheless, the yearly harassment MassCann and the rally sees from the city and community groups was “the worst yet” according to Flynn, who has been MassCann’s president for four years and involved with the group for over two decades. In spite of that and the vendor trash issues that stained the weekend slightly, most agree it was a resounding success overall.

“I think it went well for an event the city decided to screw with and cut two hours off of our permit for music, causing us to push things back and rearrange schedules for everyone,” says Phil Hardy of the Hardy Consultants, chairman of the music committee for the 2018 party. “The people from the neighborhood whatever they make complaints every year and they don’t want us in their backyard. They just don’t want to point out there were hundreds of thousands of people that came to the park and had no problem. That’s cannabis. Add one alcohol vendor, and the place is out of control—I guarantee that.”

Ultimately, the rally is what you make of it. Zairilla Bacon, one of the marquee cannabis industry public figures in attendance and a main stage speaker, said this year felt like the biggest and most inclusive yet. The Vegas superstar (if you haven’t seen her video segment on VICE cooking insanely luxe dosed foods for 2 Chainz, Hannibal Buress, and Tommy Chong, look it up at your leisure) is no slouch when it comes to traversing the country in the name of cannabis and succinctly summed up the prevailing philosophy of the weekend.

“This plant is all about love and healing, and this event has shown me nothing but love,” she said. “That’s what I take away from this weekend. Love” Here here.