Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Dan Adams


Attendees of the annual marijuana "Freedom Rally" on Boston Common
laughed during last year's event.

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The administration of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is expected to
green-light the 28th annual marijuana "Freedom Rally" on Boston Common
in September, a year after organizers of the smoky, weekend-long bash
had to sue the city to get a permit.

This year's incarnation of the long-running celebration of cannabis
culture, which draws thousands of marijuana enthusiasts, is scheduled
to begin Sept. 15. It will be the first to take place since voters
legalized recreational use of the drug last November.

The 2016 rally was almost canceled when Walsh officials at the last
moment withheld a permit originally issued in January to the
Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, also known as MassCann,
citing the group's plans to bring in outside vendors instead of using
those licensed by the city.

The marijuana advocacy group sued Boston, arguing the city's objection
was a form of politically motivated censorship; Walsh was an outspoken
opponent of the legalization measure. A Superior Court judge sided
with MassCann and issued an emergency order allowing the rally to go
forward, a ruling that echoed several earlier court victories by
MassCann against the previous mayor, Thomas M. Menino.

This year, however, the permitting process appears to be proceeding
smoothly. A spokeswoman for Walsh said both sides "have better
communicated expectations and conditions," and that MassCann has
compromised on the location of vendor carts and agreed to improve its
cleanup efforts.

Event organizers point out it would have been awkward for the Walsh
administration to withhold a permit from MassCann after approving the
controversial "free speech" rally earlier this month that had
advertised several speakers with extremist ties and that made national

Bill Downing, a longtime marijuana activist and one of the rally's
leaders, said he was hopeful this year's Freedom Rally would take
place without interference by city officials.

"All we want them to do is leave us alone," Downing said. "The less we
have to deal with them, the better, and, so far this year, they've
been pretty much staying out of our way."

Downing noted that 33 people were arrested during this month's "free
speech" rally and the massive counterprotest, some for assaulting
police officers. In contrast, he said, the only arrests at MassCann's
Freedom Rallies have been for marijuana possession and other
nonviolent offenses. Possession of modest amounts of the drug is now
legal in Massachusetts; public consumption is still banned and can be
punished with a fine.

Downing said that even though relations between MassCann and the Walsh
administration have improved, last year's legal fight and the earlier
court battles with Menino have left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"It was just devastatingly immoral," Downing said of the city's
efforts to stop the event. "Boston Common is the very first place in
the known universe that freedom of speech and assembly were guaranteed
by law. In many Americans' eyes, Boston Common is sacred ground, and
these people in City Hall, they are stewards of that invaluable
heritage. And rather than being responsible stewards by maintaining
the freedoms this place symbolizes, they did just the opposite by
restricting the freedom of assembly for petty politics."
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