A group of teenagers wound through Boston Common. The leader of the posse, a high school junior with blue hair, stopped and said she liked to smoke pot. She then walked away.
She was among the students and Boston residents at Hempfest, officially known as the MassCann Freedom Rally Saturday.
Keith Saunders, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) and a Northeastern alumnus and part-time professor at the university, began researching drug policy during his Ph.D program at Northeastern. He wrote his dissertation on marijuana reform policy. Saunders said he is deeply involved with the politics of marijuana reform and gladly shares information about the recent successes of MassCann.
Saunders commented on the non-binding public policy questions on decriminalization posted in 30 Massachusetts districts.
"The representatives [in the districts] were shocked to find out decriminalization received more votes than they did," he said.
That political view was a theme among guest speakers, including High Times Magazine cultivation editor Danny Danko. Danko's speech centered on defining marijuana use as a victimless crime. He called the attendees "peaceful pot smokers" and "no threat to society."
Danko, like all of the speakers, repeatedly pointed to the presence of police at the rally, but encouraged respect for the officers, saying they were just doing their jobs.
There were two high-profile arrests made during the event for possession of marijuana: the founder of MassCann and the publisher of High Times magazine.
Though the marijuana legalization debate was the basis of the rally, the day was hardly all about hard-hitting politics. Food vendors, craftsmen and music attracted a diverse crowd. Rally supporters, as well as those who had no idea what the rally was for, gathered to dance to the live bands, shop the wide selection of hemp products or just grab a bite to eat.
The tent set up by Veena Chander, a jewelry maker and vendor, was among the most popular. Chander said she has been selling at the rally for four years and plans to return in the future.
Northeastern senior physical therapy majors Emmie Milbut and Evan Deckelbaum, along with their friend Jocelyn Heelan, a recent graduate of the Hartford art school at University of Hartford, browsed through Chander's jewelry.
Milbut and Deckelbaum said the rally was their first, and they enjoyed taking in the vendors and music. Heelan, however, is a freedom rally veteran and supports the message the rally sends.
"I think hemp is a viable resource to be used for a variety of sources. I definitely support legalization," Heelan said, pointing out her hemp-made purse. "And I'm a big jam band fan."
The bands featured at the freedom rally offered a little something for everyone. During rock-country group Three Day Threshold's set, one father danced with his young daughter. The rock-oriented Township brought the teenage crowd to their feet. The longest running rally act Dave Tree and SuperPower were among the crowd favorites, bringing all ages to the stage for some high energy, hardcore rock music.