Freedom Rally Scaled Back to One Day in Sept

In the aftermath of the considerable toll that the 29th annual Boston Freedom Rally took on the Boston Common, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chris Cook has notified organizers that the event must be scaled back to one day from three when it returns this fall and cited them for several permit violations from last September.

The event, sponsored by MassCann (Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition), the state affiliate of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) to promote cannabis advocacy, will be permitted Saturday, Sept. 20, from noon to 8 p.m., while set-up time for organizers and vendors will be allowed on Friday, Sept. 19, from noon to 5 p.m. and take-down on Sunday, Sept. 21, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Limiting the event to one day for 2019 will ensure that the park is protected from sustained damage and the City can properly monitor permit conditions,” Cook wrote to MassCann.

Cook also informed MassCann that it was in violation of eight serious permit violations, including its responsibility of removing trash generated by event attendees, and to clean up litter in and around the site boundaries. “Your event completely failed to comply with this condition and left a voluminous, widespread and unacceptable accumulation of trash and litter on the Common,” Cook wrote.

Over the weekend of Sept. 14 to 16 of last year, an estimated crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 was on hand for the event formerly known as “Hempfest.” Compared with previous years, city officials said the event caused an unprecedented amount of and disruption to the Common, with reports of attendees driving their cars onto the park, camping out there overnight and leaving behind mountains of trash in their wake, including cooking oil, cardboard boxes and discarded syringes allegedly found among the debris. The event was discussed at a City Council hearing on Nov. 14, 2018, when representatives from the Boston Police Department and Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, were among those who testified to its adverse impact on the park.

“The Friends is pleased that the City and Commissioner Cook have made the decision to limit the Boston Freedom Rally on Boston Common to one day this September based on the multiple serious permit violations from last year’s three-day event,” Vizza said in a statement. “ A larger coalition of voices, in addition to the Friends, representing over 55,000 people from all of the communities who consider the Common their neighborhood park, as well as schools and organizations serving Boston’s children and youth who regularly use the Common, spoke out about the scale of the event, the resulting trash, the tents, and the condition they left the park. This is not about free speech, and this is not about marijuana or its legalization and use. We want everyone to enjoy events on the Common, but groups need be accountable for the damage and destruction to the City’s central and most intensively used park.”

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