Pubdate: Thu, 21 Sep 2000
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Page: 9
Author: Taylor Armerding


A very mellow and nonviolent good afternoon to all of you freedom loving 
brothers and sisters in the Merrimack Valley from here on the Boston 
Common. We're behind the big stage at the corner of Beacon and Charles 
streets with Steven S. Epstein, Esq., of Georgetown, co-founder, treasurer 
and clerk of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition and editor of the 
bimonthly periodical Mass Grass.

It's Saturday afternoon on the biggest day of Mr. Epstein's year - the 11th 
annual Freedom Rally to protest marijuana laws in particular and the war on 
drugs in general.

He looks pleased.  He should.  From an event that drew only a few hundred 
back in 1989, we are now having a very large time.  Large enough to draw at 
least a half-dozen TV cameras.  Large enough to count radio Rock of Boston 
WBCN-FM among our sponsors.  Large enough to draw big-name rappers, 
rockers, hip-hoppers and folkies to entertain.  Large enough to bring 
Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne and U.S. Senate candidate 
Carla Howell. Large enough to prompt the city to deploy well over 100 cops 
- - and those are just the ones in uniform.  As one youth tells it in bold 
marker on his naked chest: "Undercover cops are wearing pot T-shirts."

And of course, the people.  Look across the common, and there are people as 
far as you can see.  Maybe there are 65,000, maybe 100,000, maybe more. 
Nobody really feels like counting them.  There are warnings in our Official 
Guide that the common is a "drug free zone," and that anyone convicted of 
distributing or intent to distribute a controlled substance faces a 
mandatory two year prison term.  But there must be a lot of people willing 
to take that risk.  An unmistakable fragrance keeps drifting on the breeze.

Uhhhh ... where was I? Oh yeah.  Welcome to our world, where almost 
everybody falls into the immediate-future-of-our-country category, aged 14 
to 21, wandering perhaps a bit aimlessly, greeting one another with vacant 
smiles and special handshakes, lying in the brilliant late summer sun, 
halfheartedly pumping fists to obscenity-laced rap, talking on cell phones.

Welcome to a world of baggy pants, tight pants, tank tops, leather, message 
T-shirts, pierced noses, tongues, lips, ears, eyebrows, navels and 

Welcome to pink, blue, orange, green and multi-hued hair, to spikes, 
dreadlocks and skinheads.

Welcome to retro-hippie capitalists hawking everything from food to 
jewelry, macrame, books, CDs, bumper stickers, posters, belts, pants, 
shirts and hats, to mugwort joints and "mellow"-tonin.

"Take it, and then smoke about 30 minutes later.  You'll get the best high 
you've ever had," says a fiftysomething vendor to a youthful audience.

And that, in spite of the very large numbers, may be part of the problem 
with a rally that, at its center, is supposed to have a serious purpose - 
to end what organizers and a parade of speakers and entertainers call a 
$7.5 billion war on Americans who are good, hard-working people who just 
happen to enjoy marijuana, instead of alcohol, as their recreational drug 
of choice.

The Freedom Rally is, by design, part music festival, part artsy-craftsy 
marketplace, part pep rally, but most importantly, political action rally. 
And, of course, to get political troops juiced up and motivated to change 
the world, it helps if they're not blissed, or blitzed, out.

"I want you to be free," Harry Browne told the crowd, to scattered 
applause.  On this day, at least, everybody was feeling free indeed. That 
meant, of course, free to ignore the message.  And it looked like too may 
of them did.

But then Mr. Epstein says hundreds did register to vote Saturday.

"Yeah, it's incremental," he says, "but who says the revolution can't be fun?"

Taylor Armerding's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the 
Eagle-Tribune.  He may be reached at (978) 946-2213 or at  ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens