Smoking Pot on the Boston Common Could Get Pricey

City officials want to raise the amount police can fine people smoking marijuana while in the public space.

Attending the annual “Freedom Rally” on the Boston Common could become an expensive event for pro-pot ralliers.

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan wants to raise the cost of a citation, if caught smoking marijuana in public, by $200, and is specifically targeting the use of the drug by people who are mingling in the park.

“The public consumption of [marijuana] is a public safety issue in the city of Boston, in particular the Boston Common,” Linehan said in a resolution he filed this week at City Hall.

The legislation, if passed, would also target people smoking pot in other public parks, according to Linehan’s request. The proposed ordinance comes just weeks before the annual Boston Freedom Rally, also known as “Hempfest,” is set to take place on the Common where thousands of marijuana smokers gather to promote the positive aspects and uses of the drug, and push for full legalization.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, hosts the annual event.

Over the years, arrests of attendees have dwindled from 56 in 2006, to zero in 2011, after laws were passed in 2008 to decriminalize marijuana if a person was in possession of less than one ounce.

Citations have still been handed out over the years since the laws have changed, however. Last year, police gave out 34 $100 citations to event-goers who were allegedly in possession of the drug.

But because the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is enforced by the non-criminal disposition procedures, the $100 citations are often ignored, said Linehan, which is why he wants to increase the penalties, and put some teeth into the law.

According to the wording in his proposal, Linehan wants to give police complete authority to handle the pot “problem” on the Common this year:

The Boston Police Department shall have the authority to enforce these provisions through any lawful means in law or equity including, but not limited to, enforcement by criminal indictment or complaint… Any person violating the prohibition of this section shall be subject to a fine of $300 dollars for each offense. Any penalty imposed under this section shall be in addition to any civil penalty imposed.

Linehan said “just like alcohol, although it’s legal to possess it, consuming it in a public place is not,” and the ordinance is to address the public use of pot so people who don’t want to be affected by it can “feel good about going to a public park or playground.”

He said if someone failed to give a valid ID, they could be arrested, and if the citation was not paid, officers could issue a warrant, according to his proposed ordinance. Linehan claims many people give police a phony name, or false identification, making it hard to enforce the current laws. “I’m not doing this [because of HempFest], it’s really—the thing that has precipitated us trying to find additional avenues for the police—is the consistent use of marijuana on the Common. It’s a coincidence that [Hempfest] is happening at the same time,” he said.

Regardless, sponsors and organizers of the annual event are upset about the attempt to raise the cost of a citation for using the drug while on the Common, a place where last year, even elected officials like former Congressman Barney Frank stood and applauded the crowd for their efforts to legalize marijuana in the state. “Politicians are supposed to put their fingers in the wind and detect a changing political climate. [Linehan] doesn’t seem to have his finger very high in the air. To argue for increased marijuana penalties runs afoul of the attitudes and values in Massachusetts about marijuana,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. “He is not following the mantra that ‘all politics are local,’ and the selective punishment of a 20-year event on the hallowed ground that’s supposed to represent the first amendment in its most functional form … it’s unfortunate he doesn’t’ see it as that.”

St. Pierre said judges would likely agree in court that “you can’t put a special punitive penalty on peoples’ first amendment abilities,” and that the rally is not a smoke-in, but rather a first amendment event. “It’s common sense legalism and public opinion,” said St. Pierre. “It’s fool hardy. Massachusetts has the highest rate of marijuana use in the country, and he is running afoul of the pot culture.”

This year’s Freedom Rally, described as the “second largest annual gathering of cannabis supporters in the world,” will span two days, for the first time in more than 20 years, and will take place on September 14 and 15 on the Common.

Since the use of medical marijuana was legalized, St. Pierre said there is no doubt that there will be greater discussions and patient concerns about full-on legalization in Massachusetts. “The eye on the prize is definitely on legalization,” he said.

Linehan’s proposal will be discussed during a full City Council hearing on Wednesday.

08/20/13 3:30 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated that Allen St. Pierre was the executive director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, when in fact he is the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition is the state chapter of that organization. Boston magazine regrets the error.

  • Helen Chen

    This is just stupid and cyclical. To directly target Hempfest is to directly try to punish activism, and everybody knows that is the strongest motivator to the oppressed.

    • Helen Chen

      And to fine and cite people at an event like this is just an act of confusing and inconsistent laws.

  • Guest

    “Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the Massachusetts Cannabis coalition, the group that puts on “Hempfest” each year.”

    …hmm someone should get their facts right; nothing in this sentence is true.

  • SocDoc

    I requested a correction. The author replied:
    Steve Annear3:27 PM (31 minutes ago)
    to me

    Mr. Saunders,

    I believe the only errors are that the title of St. Pierre is incorrect, and I left out a word or two. When juggling multiple stories in a day, this happens. I apologize for the errors, and they have been corrected.

    The other things you point out are not “facts” that I am presenting, they are quotes, from both Linehan and St. Pierre, and therefore will remain.
    This isn’t a column, so in no way will I address “scare tactics.” It’s a quote from Linehan, not a fact that I’m implying.

    As for what he said about arrests, that is part of his proposed legislation, so if you take issue with what is written I would take it up with Linehan during the city council hearings.
    I would politely suggest if you have issue with something that’s written, you attempt to go at it less aggressively.

    Thanks for your time.

    Steve Annear
    Digital Reporter
    Boston Magazine

    • Aaron Mason

      He’s right.

  • Mike Cann

    Steve Annear scoop, nobody else is reporting. Thank you. A+, I’m glad you are here, solid reporting. Much appreciated Boston Magazine.

  • Eric

    “He said if someone failed to give a valid ID, they could be arrested,
    and if the citation was not paid, officers could issue a warrant,
    according to his proposed ordinance.”

    Sorry, federal law says you are only required to identify yourself. You are not required to carry identification.

    • DanaCee69

      I didn’t know that. And if you give the police a fake name it is giving false information- a crime.

      • KDip23

        How would they prove it?

      • chris


  • DanaCee69

    It’s not legal to drink in public, so it shouldn’t be legal to smoke cannabis in public, either. But there are exceptions to public drinking laws; such as street dances, small town “fun days” and block parties. Seems like this would be a great place to implement that same procedural mentality and provide an exception. It would go a long way towards good will and common sense, as well as take the pressure off of law enforcement. A $200 fine for tokin up in public is not excessive, considering decent weed goes for more than that an ounce. Idiots who think they can flaunt their increasing freedom just hurt the cause. And they are apparently too immature to be given the privilege in the first place.

    • Mike Cann

      The event is about civil disobedience, some of us are prepared to get arrested on this day over it. And many have. Political protest. To not do anything but light a joint? This is a crime? One that BPD has arrested many Boston Freedom Rally attendees for over the years? A huge waste of money!

      The city should do as Seattle has done. Speak from the stage, work with the organizers, hand out Doritos, do good press for your organization.

      I do like some of your words DanaCee69, you are trying to see through the smoke screen. You are so pragmatically taxpayer right for a day, the Police should just chill, it’s the best day in Boston for many of us. Peaceful, really peaceful, more than peaceful, vibrancy, kinship, love, respect, loyalty. Community. To end the war on marijuana users. A war much worse than any plant itself.

      A couple of questions I have.

      Is it legal for city of Boston to make it an arrestable crime? I thought not. I thought the AG said they could only raise the fine? I think this ordinance, law for the city of Boston is poorly written and may be illegal based on the vote of a MAJORITY MANDATE of VOTERS iN MA and BOSTON, 65%+ statewide and more in BOSTON!

      Another question, how many Councilor did not present a real name? Hw about a real number of the less than 50 cited?

      And finally, shouldn’t we just treat it like cigarettes? What’s worse for my kid to see and get a hit off of? Um, Cigarettes! So why we going after weed, again? When the people said, “No more!”!!!? Didnt we want people to smoke outside and not inside?? When we ban it outdoors, where do you think people are smoking it at?

    • Brian


    • chris

      your are so totally right , may as well have a large area festival be smoke friendly ,

  • Eddie Thomas

    We’re just going to be as stubborn as Ghandi no matter how many laws they decide to enforce. This is OUR lifestyle, & we’re not giving that up for little men in blue clothing with a shiny badge & a gun. It’s just a plant, like tobacco, that some people enjoy consuming for fun. Now please tell me, what’s wrong with that?

  • Jonathan Rodriguez

    jewing intensifies

  • Jonathan Rodriguez

    “The public consumption of [marijuana] is a public safety issue”

    its a safety hazard to ZOG’s bank account OY VEY

  • chris

    I tell you I no come off no banana boat