Pro-Pot Rally Runs Into Permit Issues With the City

Organizers claim they were denied a two-day permit, but the Parks Department says that's not true.

UPDATE 09/10/13: Boston officials have granted the organizers of the annual Freedom Rally a one-day permit, and said the group may be seeking an injunction in court in order to have the event span for two days on the Boston Common. According to a statement from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a 2013 “Park Permit” has been granted to the MassCann/NORML Boston Freedom Rally to hold an event and concert on Boston Common on September 14. The permit gives the group permission to hold the event from noon to 6 p.m.


Sparks are flying between the organizers of the annual Boston Freedom Rally, an event that pays homage to the benefits of marijuana, and the department that issues permits for events to be held in Boston’s public parks.

According to the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, the event’s plan to extend to a second day on the Common could be snubbed by city officials.

On Friday, the group posted a notice on their website claiming that a lawyer representing the city said no permits to put on the pro-pot rally would be distributed this year.

The Freedom Rally, also known to attendees as “Hemp Fest,” has been held on the Common for decades, and last year had minimal interference with the city. But that’s not the case this time around, as they look to add an extra day to their annual event for the first-time ever. The event is supposed to take place on Saturday and Sunday, September 14 and 15.

From the MassCann/NORML website:

Eight days before the long-planned first-ever two-day MassCann/NORML Boston Freedom Rally on the Boston Common, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, September 14 and 15, the City of Boston without warning has denied the permit for the two-day event… This comes two months after representatives of MassCann/NORML met with officials of all affected city departments to iron out details, a meeting at which there was no hint of any such problems.

But Jacque Goddard, spokesperson for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the office that grants permits for events held in public parks like the Common, said they have not “denied” anything, and discussions about the length of the planned rally are still in the works. “I saw the reference [to the permit denial] over the weekend, but we have not denied the permit. We are still talking to the organizers about the rally and about the parameters for when it will be held,” she said. “In previous years they have always had a one-day rally. That’s why there is further discussion needed. The discussions have been ongoing, but there hasn’t been a resolution. It’s incorrect to say we have denied them permit.”

Representatives from MassCann/NORML didn’t speak directly to Goddard on Friday, according to their blog post, but instead were informed about the permit problem by the city’s lawyer. “In a phone call with Bill Downing, treasurer of MassCann, Alex O’Connell, Esq. of the Boston Law Department informed Downing that the city had decided there were not enough police resources to police MassCann/NORML’s event along with other events happening that weekend,” according to their post.

Organizers said this isn’t the first time they have run into problems either. In 1997 and 1998 the city imposed unworkable and unconstitutional restrictions, which were later overturned by court injunction, they said. In 2008, the city allegedly attempted to “siphon off” any proceeds from the rally and redirect them to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, “a scheme that was also overturned by court injunction.”

The group plans to file for another court injunction if the city denies them the two-day permit, they said.

Mike Cann, a former member of MassCann/NORML, who helped fight for the previous injunctions, said if the issue goes to court again, he is confident the organization will take another win, and that the rally will proceed as planned. “And if by chance the city finally won in court [versus] MassCann, thousands are still showing up, permit or not,” he said in an email.

Goddard said it might not be necessary since “the application is still pending.”

She said more information would be available Monday afternoon, as discussion between organizers and the parks department continue.

The two-day pro-pot gathering, which draws thousands of people to the Common to “build a consensus for a more moral and rational public policy regarding all uses of the cannabis plant,” also ran into trouble with elected officials this year.

In August, Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan filed legislation to raise the cost of a citation for smoking marijuana in public, specifically in parks, by $200. Linehan said it was a coincidence that his proposal was filed prior to the Freedom Rally.