Following the return of the annual BostonFreedom Rally Saturday, Sept. 21 to the Boston Common, the decision to scale itback to a one-day event this year from its traditional three days has beenlargely applauded.
MassCann (Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition), the state affiliate of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) sponsor the event commonly as Hempfest. Last years 29th annual Freedom Rally, which took place over the weekend of Sept. 14-16, 2018, drew an estimated crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 and was the subject of much debate after elected officials and civic leaders said it caused an unprecedented amount of damage to the Common. Witnesses also reported attendees driving their cars onto the park, camping out there overnight and leaving behind heaps of trash in their wake.
CityCouncilor Josh Zakim, who along with Councilor Ed Flynn, co-sponsored a hearingon Nov. 14, 2018, to discuss the future of Freedom Fest in light of theseallegations from last year, credits the organizers for scaling the event backto one day this year, which he describes as a good step forward.
As aresult, we didnt received nearly as many calls with concerns about the event,Zakim said. I would like to thank the mayors office, the Parks Department andthe organizers for working together [to achieve this result].
StateRep. Jay Livingstone echoed this sentiment: I appreciate the work of the Cityto work with the organizers to limit the time-period and increase requiredmitigation. I hope the combination of these two agreements will minimize theimpact [the event has] on the Common.
Incontrast, Colin Zick, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Associations Parks andPublic Spaces Committee, said while the BHCA was pleased with the decision tocurtail this years event, which resulted in a noticeable decrease in negativeimpacts on the Common and surrounding neighborhood, the group still hassubstantial concerns over Freedom Rally.
Itstoo large for the Common and features too many violations of City of Bostonordinances (e.g. consuming cannabis in public, smoking on the Common) andviolations of the conditions of the permit (e.g. several overnight campers onthe Common, excessive sound amplification,numerous cars parked on thegrass of the Common), Zick wrote.
Thepermit for the event expressly states no smoking is permitted on the Common;consuming marijuana or marijuana products in a public place is prohibited; andno camping is allowed, yet Zick said these restrictions were all flagrantlyviolated during the most recent Freedom Rally.
Inresponse to allegations of camping on the Common, MassCann spokesperson MaggieKinsella attributed it a little of bit of confusion on their part, sincemembers of the group are usually permitted to stay overnight on the Commonduring the event to safeguard their possessions. But when a Park Ranger toldthem camping wasnt permitted this year, Kinsella said they immediately tookdown their tents.
Kinsellaexpressed MassCanns gratitude to Beantown Greentown, a local marijuanacultivation and clothing company, for spearheading the volunteer effort forthis years Freedom Rally.
Theyorganized the volunteers who emptied trash throughout the event and stayedafterwards to help clean up, she said. Sunday was the official cleanup day,and everyone really stepped up then.
Kinsella said MassCann is made up solely ofvolunteers who worked to help address some of the issues that came up in thepast.
Added Kinsella: We hope the cityacknowledges the improvement, and maybe, we can get a permit for two days nextyear. It was certainly a disappointment to some attendees and vendors that itwas only one day this time. We think it crowded the park more because everyonewas trying to get in there on one day rather than over the course of three, soI hope we can meet in the middle next time.
(Kinsellacouldnt provide the size of the crowd at this years event by press time.)
And while the future of Freedom Rally is now unknown, Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Liz Sullivan wrote, [We] and the event organizers worked together to ensure that all traces of the event were removed on Sunday. We look forward to continuing to partner with groups who activate our green spaces with public programming.
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