The 33rd Boston Freedom Rally returned on Saturday, Sept. 17, to the Boston Common, and despite high attendance, this year’s event apparently had little impact on the park, or on the surrounding residential communities.
“As far as attendance goes, we’re still trying to figure out the specifics, but we heard there were up to 100,000 people there,” said Averyl Andrade, president of the board of directors for the event’s sponsor, MassCann (Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition), an all-volunteer nonprofit working for the moderation of the state’s marijuana laws, as well as the state affiliate of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
For this year’s daylong event (formerly known as “Hempfest”), which featured 160 vendors, MassCann contracted Beantown Greentown – a local cleaning company whose employees are also MassCann volunteers – to handle the cleanup efforts, according to Andrade. Their cleaning crew, who numbered about 10 workers, spent all of Friday, Sept. 16, on the Common setting up for the event.
“They made sure all the dumpsters were in the right locations,” said Andrade, who works full time as a chemical-free produce farmer in Westport, Mass. “They also played a major role in last year’s event so they understood where priority areas might come up, and to make sure we were prepared for those.”
The cleaning crew was also on hand prior to the event, which ran from noon to 7 p.m. on Sept. 17, to ensure that trash barrels were properly placed. For the entire duration of the event, workers also made sure that the barrels were emptied on a continuing basis.
“They had a crew with grabbers,” added Andrade. “As soon as the Common cleared out [after the event], they came in and literally swept the park from one side to the other, making sure they got every piece of trash.”
The crew wrapped up cleaning the park at about 3 a.m. Sunday, according to Andrade.
MassCann had a meeting with the Friends of the Public Garden over the summer in preparation for the event, said Andrade, and the two groups are scheduled to meet again to discuss post-event feedback at the Friends group’s “earliest convenience.”
Representatives for the Friends, as well as for the Beacon Hill Civic Association and for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, all said they had received no complaints regarding this year’s event.
“What we’d really like to convey is the larger impact the event has on the neighboring communities, and that while people were coming to the Common to celebrate, they were using public transportation, they were supporting local businesses, they’re supporting the [parking] meter system, and they’re staying in hotels, so in generals, the increased economic impact we have is positive,” said Andrade, who added that MassCann also hasn’t received any negative feedback from this year’s event.
Traditionally the second largest annual gathering for marijuana law reform in the U.S., after the Seattle Hempfest, the Boston Freedom Rally has taken its toll on the Common and on the surrounding residential communities in the past, however.
Over the weekend of Sept. 14 to 16, 2018, an estimated crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 was on hand for the 29th annual Boston Freedom Rally – an event that, according to city officials at the time, caused an unprecedented amount of damage 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 discarded syringes allegedly found among the debris.
Chris Cook, the Boston Parks Commissioner at the time, said during a City Council hearing in November of 2018 at City Hall, no other event in the city’s park system generates as much trash as the Boston Freedom Rally. And that year’s three-day event set the city back $10,000 in overtime to clean up the Common afterwards, with that cost rising as high as $20,000 in previous years, added Cook at that time.
Likewise, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has legally challenged Boston Freedom Rally at least six times to no avail, going back to the 1990s, and doesn’t endorse the event, which it views as a direct affront to the smoking ban enacted in city parks, including on the Common.
But despite these past controversies, the 34th Boston Freedom Rally is expected to return to the Common next year on its traditional date – the third Saturday in September, said Andrade.