The Long & Hazy History of the Boston Freedom Rally
Massachusetts knows a thing or two about tradition and on the third weekend each September for the past 28 years Boston has been home to one of the coolest traditions in the cannabis culture, the Boston Freedom Rally.
From Friday, September 14th through Sunday, September 16th, beginning at high noon each day, thousands of marijuana enthusiasts, advocates and activists will transform the iconic Boston Common into a weed wonderland where one can wander through various villages and educational experiences, greeted at every step by the enticing aroma of cannabis ablaze.
The event has grown year after year, and just expanded to the 3-day format in 2017. It is organized annually by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), the state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) also known as MassCann/NORML.
Maggie Kinsella, the Press Secretary at MassCann.org, says that this year’s event brings back everything that has been loved before and adds some new experiences as well.
"Coming back again is the Cannabis Education Village. What's new about it is its expansion into a 21+ area by the Parkman Bandstand stage at the Gazebo. Sponsors will not be vending in this area and will instead interact with consumers for educational purposes and networking.
There will be a private area for veterans to network and relax with hospitality with NEVA (New England Veterans Alliance).
Another new edition: the Commonwealth Cannabis Competition at the Boston Freedom Rally for the first time. Entries include flower, concentrates, edibles, and topicals.
The main focus is on the panels and discussions to plant the seeds of knowledge among attendees. Consumers can learn more about marijuana and grow with the changing perception of social norms through anecdotal evidence and established data…
…and of course, practicing civil disobedience, listening to speakers, music, and enjoying cannabis culture."
This year’s event promises to be more amazing than ever and we will be there to experience it all firsthand, but the history of the Boston Freedom Rally has been rough, and organizers fight hard each year just to pull it off.
Despite the fact that the event brings millions of dollars in tourism revenue into the city each year, and sees few or no arrests or even altercations, Boston city officials have publicly stated their disdain for the Freedom Rally and reliably throw up regulatory roadblocks and spiteful delays every single year.
Though the ongoing dispute was settled out of court this year, rally organizers have had to sue the city six different times over the past three decades, and all six times the courts have ruled in favor of the Boston Freedom Rally.
“This is not an event that we endorse, as it is a direct affront to the enacted smoking ban in City parks including Boston Common that was passed back in 2013,” says Ryan Woods, the director of external affairs for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.
But folks like Woods are in the minority in Massachusetts, where 54% of the voters approved a 2016 ballot measure that officially legalized the recreational use and cultivation of cannabis for all adults in the state.
The roots of the Boston Freedom Rally go much deeper than 2016, however, and the very ground that Boston Common rests on is a historic meeting ground with a past interwoven with the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The seeds of knowledge and empowerment that the rally has planted over the last 28 years have bloomed into the legalization that many Americans enjoy today.
The first Boston Freedom Rally was held in 1989 in the northwest Mass neighborhood of North Adams which has since further grown into a cultural hub in the region.
Considering how much bureaucratic red tape must be navigated even today with the plant being legal, you can imagine how difficult it must have been to work with city officials back then. So, the following year the event was moved to the dock before the majestic and incredibly backdrop of the USS Constitution.
In 1991, the intrepid organizers, vendors, and attendees took their movement to the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Street, and the following year they moved once again to Boston Common at the Parkman Bandstand. In 1995 they crossed the Common to their permanently contested turf on the Carty Parade Field where they put up the good fight year after year to keep the tradition alive.
The legalization effort leading up to the 2016 vote was strongly opposed by Governor Charlie Baker, state Attorney General Maura Healy, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. The three pathetically argued that the voters should not consider legalizing cannabis when opioid addiction was such a problem already.
The lack of either logic or integrity, or both, in that incredible stance serves as testament to what the organizers of the Boston Freedom Rally must endure and overcome year after year, yet it continues to grow and gain popularity, proudly holding down its spot as the second largest cannabis reform gathering in the country behind Seattle’s annual Hempfest.
The history of the Boston Freedom Rally, much like the history of the cannabis plant, is still being written and the story is as exciting as ever.