Overcoming a financial crunch after last year's Boston Freedom Rally against marijuana prohibition was washed out by Hurricane Ivan, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition was back on the Boston Common last Saturday without missing a beat. With this year's Hurricane Ophelia dampening the skies of New England, attendance was reportedly down from the 40-50,000 people the event has drawn in the past, but despite the wet weather and uncertainty until recent days that the event would actually come off, thousands of people streamed into the Common for a diet of rock, rebellion, and reefer politics.
Despite numerous calls from the stage for the legalization of marijuana, Boston police weren't taking the day off. Instead they sent uniformed and undercover police into the smoky crowds, managing to make 44 arrests, mostly for simple drug possession. Those arrests made the theme of the 16th annual Freedom Rally, "Secure the Blessing of Liberty," all the more resonant.
MassCann leader Keith Saunders told the crowd that one way MassCann wanted to secure the blessings of liberty is with the passage of a bill that would decriminalize simple pot possession. Under that bill, which has not moved since a June hearing in the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, people caught with less than one ounce of marijuana would be ticketed and subject to a fine of up to $100, with no criminal record.
While Saunders warned the crowd of the police presence and advised against toking up during the rally, not everyone heeded his advice. The Boston Globe interviewed Worcester resident Wayne Burke, a 53-year-old retired painter, as he shared a joint with a pair of young friends who came with him to the rally. "When we're done smoking this bone, we're not going to rob somebody," Burke shrugged. "We're going to go home and eat a sandwich and watch TV."
For MassCann, the aftermath of the rally was a time to give thanks, especially to people who contributed to ensure the rally came off after the financial disaster of last year's washout. It was not only people opening their wallets, MassCann noted; many vendors agreed to let the group hold their 2004 fees in a bid to keep the rally afloat. The event also had the backing of national NORML, High Times magazine, Radio WBCN "The Rock of Boston," and local businesses such as the Salvia Zone, Tripatouriam, and the Hempest, which provided promotional and other assistance.
In an op-ed published in the days before the Freedom Rally, MassCann's Steve Epstein cited Bostonian John Adams' 1763 prophecy that, "We shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption." From the sound of things at the Freedom Rally, some Bostonians are ready to consume hemp in all its forms.