hempfest | boston freedom rally

Grassroots Institute member Paul Martinage from New Hampshire exhales a sigh of relief. (Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian)

Boston City Council will explore the idea of moving the Freedom Rally, also known as Hempfest, off of Boston Common, according to a hearing order.

Councilors Josh Zakim and Ed Flynn filed the order for a hearing on the issue ahead of this week’s Boston City Council meeting.

The Boston Freedom Rally, aka Hempfest, is an annual event on Boston Common organized by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann).

Though the event has been a popular pro-marijuana celebration for many over the years, not everyone is a fan. 


“The Boston Common hosts many permitted events throughout the year, but Hempfest is an event that regularly draws complaints from surrounding neighbors and visitors to the area,” the councilors wrote in their hearing order. The order states that the Council will hold a hearing to “further examine what action the city can take to mitigate the event and explore options to move it.”

Per the councilors, these complaints allege “illegal activities and permit violations” at Hempfest 2018, which occurred Sept. 15 to 17. “This included reports of parked cars on the green space, camping in the park and leaving trash, including used needles, in the park after the event,” the order details.

Maggie Kinsella, spokeswoman for MassCann, disputed the idea that the used needles were associated with Hempfest.

“We are disappointed that any association was made between needles on the Common during a cannabis event,” she said. “It is a false statement as there are needles on the Boston Common every single day of the year.”

Kinsella said that the organization has dealt with people trying to shut down the Freedom Rally “yearly.”

“It does not get any less frustrating as a volunteer organization that puts on this event to gather the community and culture for people to learn about and understand cannabis,” she said.

Is Hempfest a bad neighbor?

hempfest | boston freedom rally

Crowds at the 2017 Boston Freedom Rally. Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian / Metro

The Friends of the Public Garden took issue with the Freedom Rally this past summer, with members alleging that the fest has frustrated those who live around the Common.

“We are hoping the city could find a more appropriate location for it that does not negatively impact so many communities,” multiple neighborhood groups wrote in a blog post ahead of Hempfest 2018.

But the members of MassCann argue that they can’t be considered “bad neighbors” on Boston Common when the park is not the personal “backyard” to those with homes on and around Beacon Hill, MassCann Member Liaison Bill Downing said in an email.

Downing said that the organization always cleans up after the event and that Boston Common was “restored to its pristine condition by Monday, 9/17, afternoon.”

MassCann Clerk Andy Gaus also disputed resident reports that the Freedom Rally left trash on the park, saying that “post-rally” photos depicting refuse were actually taken while the event was still going on.

“The neighbors have a right to complain that their enjoyment of the Common is limited for a weekend,” he said in an email. “But the rights of those few people must be balanced against the rights of the tens of thousands of people who congregated peacefully to celebrate their newfound freedom in a place sacred to freedom."

Ahead of Wednesday’s Boston City Council meeting at which the hearing order will be introduced, MassCann is asking for aid from its attendees.

“If you have ever been to the Boston Freedom Rally on the Boston Common, now is the time to come out and show your support” the group wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “We will be attending to hear the motion for a public hearing from all parties who would like to comment. Stay tuned.”

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