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Marijuana’s Freedom Fighters Ready for Boston Rally

Photos by Jenuinevision

Industry Events

Marijuana’s Freedom Fighters Ready for Boston Rally

As always, The Boston Freedom Rally will continue to spread its message of cannabis legalization in 2016.

When it comes to organizing The Boston Freedom Rally, trouble with city hall is nothing new to the folks at MassCann, a NORML affiliate chapter in Massachusetts, but this year brings new challenges. Their longtime sparring partners from the office of Mayor Tomas Menino have moved on, and with his replacement came a new figurehead in the fight against cannabis legalization in Massachusetts. Mayor Martin Walsh has spent the last 17 years as a recovering alcoholic, with credit to the 12-Step Program, and spent even longer at the top of some of the state’s most powerful unions and trade organizations. In April, Walsh joined with Gov. Charlie Baker and a few less prominent politicians to form the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, the strongest organized effort devoted to see 2016’s Marijuana Policy Project-backed recreational legalization ballot initiative fail.

While the legalization overtones are obvious this election cycle, this is MassCann’s second foray with the Walsh administration. In 2014 city hall administrators attempted to pull the event’s permit the week of the rally, despite hundreds of thousands already invested in the weekend by organizers, bands, vendors and attendees. Over the course of the week, a legal battle ensued. It wasn’t until set up began at Boston Common Friday evening, when volunteers got word they were good to go for the next day via an injunction. This would be MassCann’s fifth victory against the city in four court cases, efforts to prevent the rally from being stopped in 1997 and 1998 were combined court cases.

“There is no actual application process, the process is up to the parks department. Since there is no written rule, they basically do whatever they want,” said MassCann Board of Directors member Bill Downing.

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In 2008, the lack of clarity on the process gave Downing the idea to apply for the permit on the third Saturday in September through 2020. The main point of contention in 2014, and now again this year, centers around the expansion of the event. When Downing applied for a long term permit the rally was still a one-day affair. But after the rally expanded to two days, he began filing amended applications annually. Last year, Downing explains, was the first full year of the Walsh administration.

“I don’t think they have the time or resources to really give us a hassle,” he said.

But things would change. When MassCann approached the city for the typically mundane process of finalizing the permit they were told they would need to return at another time. What some MassCann members believe to be at the core of the current issue is the Boston Police Department. Since the rally had moved to Boston Common over two decades ago, the main presence from the city came in the form of park rangers. While there were plenty of undercover officers year in and year out, the park rangers proved to do the job capably time, and time again.

“This year we go to the state house to go over the typical permit process. Fire, police, all that kind of jazz,” said MassCann Board member Jeff Morris. “This is usually when we’re good to go, but this time they said they would get back to us. We were surprised.”

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The weirdness had only just begun. A week later things took another very unexpected turn. The biggest corruption case to hit city hall in 20 years had blown up in Boston. At the center of it was Kenneth Brissette, the director of tourism, sports and entertainment. Hand picked by Martin Walsh, Brissette was indicted on a charge that he withheld city permits from a major Boston music festival until it hired union stagehands. Brissette had been one of the few folks supportive of MassCann’s permit application.

After Brissette was moved to paid administrative leave, MassCann returned for their second attempt at the permit. They were told they must hire the police department for the event, despite the precedent set in the past.

“We always hire the park rangers, they do a great job. It’s Boston Common, that’s their spot. We’re not going to hire a bunch of police officers for the weekend to sit around and do nothing,” said Morris.

According to Morris, at the mention of hiring police, Downing looked to the committee and declared, “Nope we’re all set. Tell the police to take the weekend off. They can do what they want, it’s a public event, but we’ll be hiring the park rangers not the police.” Round two had not gone well.

In early June, rally organizers appeared before the city for the third time. Once again they were met by calls for a paid police presence at the event and told they would need to return.

While bolstered by the years of success in court against such actions, up to now the MassCann team has not been able to bring the issue to a conclusion. This has not stopped the excitement from building. The rally is sure to be the largest pro-cannabis gathering west of the Rockies, and those pushing the ballot initiative are taking note.

MassCann originally supported a ballot initiative for legalization that did not qualify. After some discussion, the group decided to put its weight behind The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The CRMLA is still nailing down exact plans for the rally, but the group is excited to take part in one of the nation’s oldest and most historic cannabis events.

“We’re very pleased to take part in the rally this year, MassCann has been very helpful on the campaign trail. I know they’re going to continue to be helpful, and we’re very excited to have them on board,” said Jim Borghesani of CRMLA.

On MassCann’s end, kiosks used as signature gathering centers during last year’s cannabis legalization push will be converted to pop-up education stations. These will be used to educate cannabis consumers on the ins and outs of November’s ballot initiative.

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The CRMLA is still nailing down exact plans for the rally, but the group is excited to take part in one of the nation’s oldest and most historic cannabis events.

“We’re very pleased to take part in the rally this year, MassCann has been very helpful on the campaign trail. I know they’re going to continue to be helpful, and we’re very excited to have them on board,” said Jim Borghesani of CRMLA.

On MassCann’s end, kiosks used as signature gathering centers during last year’s cannabis legalization push will be converted to pop-up education stations. These will be used to educate cannabis consumers on the ins and outs of November’s ballot initiative.

Packed with food, art and glass vendors from end to end, tens of thousands of folks will converge on Boston Common to celebrate great cannabis, great music and their attempt to destigmatize a plant that many have given their best years to the criminal justice system over. The only question left is how many times MassCann will have to go to court to make it happen.

Are you planning on attending the Boston Freedom Rally?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lawrence Goodwin

    August 23, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Love the pictures and historical information. But this article clearly was not edited very well (as of Tuesday, Aug. 23), considering how multiple paragraphs were duplicated. I also was perplexed by the sentence, “The rally is sure to be the largest pro-cannabis gathering west of the Rockies…” since Boston is more than 1,500 miles to the east. WTF are the editors smoking? It must be the finest strains of all.

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