With as many as 10,000 cannabis enthusiasts expected to descend on the Boston Common on Saturday, Sept. 16, from noon to 8 p.m. for the 34th Boston Freedom Rally, event organizers are already taking measures to mitigate its impact, particularly in regard to refuse left behind on not only the park but also in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Robert “BabyBoi” Jeffrey, president of MassCann, 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), which has staged the Freedom Rally since its inception, said the organization has contracted local cleaning company, Beantown Greentown, to clean up the event grounds and surrounding neighborhoods for a fourth consecutive year.
The Beantown Greentown team will begin its cleanup efforts on Saturday morning prior to the start of the event by making sure that numerous trash receptacles are marked and placed between all of the vendor booths, as well as in heavily trafficked areas of the park. The workers will continue to empty out trash receptacles throughout the day as necessary. When the event wraps up, the team will conduct a deep clean of the Common before returning first thing Sunday morning for a final walkthrough, and to clean the perimeter of the park.
“We know trash carries,” said Jeffery. “Beantown Greentown and MassCann have agreed to leave [the Common] looking better than when we got there.”
Just over 150 vendors have signed on to fill the 190 slots for booths at the event, said Jeffery more than a week ahead of this year’s Freedom Rally. He said he wasn’t confident all the slots would be filled in time for the event.
Meanwhile, this year’s Freedom Rally will celebrate 50 years of hip hop, with a headlining performance by Mendo Dope, whose lyrics offers lessons on cultivating cannabis, as well as performances by Chief Rocker Busy Bee and Real One, respectively.
Of the upcoming event, Liz, Vizza, president of the Friends of the Public Garden, which partners with the city to help maintain and enhance the Common, as well as the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and the Public Garden, wrote in an email: “Parks are special shared spaces, and the Friends work closely with public and private entities to help balance parks use with parks care. Over the last several years, MassCann has worked to lessen its impact on the Common and improve its communication with the Friends, including learning from past years, and working with stakeholders and the community to plan their event. The Friends will continue to work with MassCann to ensure they have procedures in place, both pre and post-Freedom Rally, so we can achieve the balance of public access with parks care making the Common welcoming for all.”
Colin Zick, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association Parks and Public Spaces Committee, said many of the group’s concerns with the Freedom Rally have been ameliorated since it was scaled back from three days to a one-day event, and since the organizers have increased their commitment to trash removal and crowd control. The BHCA has been, and will continue, to be in touch with MassCann leading up to the event, added Zick.
Moreover, the crowds at the Freedom Rally have also seemingly dwindled in response to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth, which went into effect on July 28, 2017 – a trend that Zick expects to see continue into the future.
Traditionally the second largest annual gathering for marijuana law reform in the U.S., after the Seattle Hempfest, the event formerly known as “Hempfest” 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.
The Boston Parks and Recreation Department has also legally challenged the 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, Freedom Rally is already expected to return to its usual timeslot on the third Saturday in September next year.
“We’re not taking the whole mile and just accepting an inch at a time,” said Jeffery, who added that a time may come in the future when MassCann asks the city to expand Freedom Rally again to a two-day event.
“In the meantime, we’re just trying to reduce our carbon footprint and show the city we really appreciate being [on the Common],” he said.