Boston Freedom Rally organizers plan fight against city permit issue

boston hempfest freedom rally
Crowds gathered on the Boston Common for the annual Freedom Rally in 2009.
Credit: Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

Plans to expand the annual Freedom Rally, which promotes the legalization of marijuana, may go up in smoke before festivalgoers have a chance to light up on Boston Common this weekend. 

Organizers of the rally, which is set to take place this weekend, have worked since last year to extend the traditionally one-day event into two days. However, they said the city was blocking their attempts to hold a two-day rally and only notified them of a permit denial about a week before the event was scheduled to take place.

On Tuesday, four days before the rally, the city said it issued a permit to the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition for a one-day event on Saturday.

“The Boston Parks and Recreation Department announced today that a 2013 Park Permit has been granted to the MassCann/NORML Boston Freedom Rally to hold an event/concert on Boston Common on Sept. 14. The permit gives the group permission to hold the event from [noon to] 6 p.m. on Sept. 14,” the parks department said in a brief news release.

Bill Downing, treasurer of MassCann, the state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the organization is working on filing a request for an injunction so the two-day rally can happen as planned.

“We’re not going to acquiesce to unconstitutional attempts to block our freedom of speech and assembly,” Downing said. “We’re going to stand up for our rights. Hey, if we don’t do it, who else will?”

A spokeswoman for the city parks department declined to comment citing the potential litigation.

The Freedom Rally, which has been held for more than 20 years, has become an annual event that takes place every September on Boston Common and attracts thousands of people. It features speakers (like former Rep. Barney Frank, who appeared last year), vendors, music performances and pot smoking.

Downing said that if the injunction fails, he expects some type of gathering to still take place on Sunday on the Common.

“I’m sure something will happen on Sunday,” he said.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.


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