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Radical Rant: Will This Be the Last Boston Freedom Rally Under Prohibition?

Russ Belville

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I’ve just returned from this weekend’s 27th annual Boston Freedom Rally. Once again, we filled the Boston Common with tokers and tokettes and non-toking lovers of liberty – perhaps more full than I’ve seen it since I first attended in 2008.

The reason for that has to be the appearance of Method Man and Redman on the Main Stage for the 4:20 hour on Sunday. They put on an incredible show for the thousands who took advantage of this free performance made possible by an invigorated fundraising effort that included sponsorship from Social High, a new 420-friendly social network.

We could also thank the beautiful sunny day we had on Saturday, bringing out the masses to enjoy the two stages of music and hundreds of glass, food, and novelty vendors. At times the walkways were so packed with people you felt like a car in rush-hour Boston traffic.

Best of all, the entire event was a huge “Yes on 4” rally, supporting the Question 4 initiative on the Massachusetts ballot to legalize marijuana. If there were any Stoners Against Legalization gathered at the Common this weekend, they were invisible and silent.

“Y’know I’m one of ya tiltahs, right, Radical Russ?” asked one of Rally crew in his thick Boston accent. He’s one of my dedicated listeners and was referring to my TILTers acronym – Treat It Like Tomatoes – that I use to describe people who aren’t satisfied with a legalization plan unless it treats marijuana like tomatoes, as in unlimited personal possession and cultivation without intrusive government regulation of backyard gardens. Aha, I thought, here we go, a Masshole Stoner Against Legalization!

But my nerves were calmed as he followed his statement up with, “But I’m gonna vote yes on Question 4, though. It’s not where I want us to be, but we ain’t gonna get there without taking the first steps fahwahd, am I right?”

Indeed, I agreed, and thanked him for his vote. “Look,” I told him, “there hasn’t been a single legalization plan yet that meets my standards. Of course, my standards are an 18-year-old age limit, unlimited personal possession and cultivation, commercial pot taxed no more than commercial corn, Jack Herer’s birthday replaces Columbus Day as a national holiday, and on your birthday the state sends you a free quarter pound of dank.”

He chuckled as I continued. “But the problem is that I don’t have $20 million to get the Russ Belville True Legalization™ Initiative on the ballot and I doubt I can get 50 percent of the voters to agree with me. So I vote for whatever legalization gets me closer to that goal and pisses off Kevin Sabet.”

The Rally continued with incredible music and speakers; many of the latter have become dear friends of mine and it’s my annual chance to catch up with them and say high. But there was a definite feeling in the air that this could… this should be the last Boston Freedom Rally under marijuana prohibition.

Perhaps the memories of Boston Police chasing young people across the park and tackling them to arrest them for marijuana less than ten Freedom Rallys ago are why Massachusetts doesn’t seem to have the Stoners Against Legalization like California has, where lax medical marijuana laws have made personal possession hassles with police like ancient history to young people. It was only a few years ago that two sixty-something marijuana heavyweights–NORML’s Keith Stroup and then-HIGH TIMES’ Rick Cusick–were cuffed and arrested by Boston Police for sharing a joint.

Massachusetts passed decriminalization in 2008 (Question 2) and followed it up with medical marijuana in 2012 (Question 3), with both votes achieving about 63 percent support. This year’s legalization (Question 4) could give Massachusetts three statewide reform victories in a row – a marijuana hat trick!

But this year, most of the state’s top elected officials, including the Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House, and the Mayor of Boston, have come out strongly against Question 4. Where there was only token law enforcement opposition to the previous two questions, this election is finding opposition money pouring in to fund anti-legalization TV and radio advertisements. The polls so far show a very close race and the activists I spoke with confirmed it.

Every vote will matter this time around. Don’t assume everybody knows Question 4 is on the ballot. NORML Board Member Madeline Martinez and I were approached by a 20-year-old woman who liked Madeline’s “Marijuana is Safer Than Alcohol” shirt. As we conversed with her, we found she had no idea there was marijuana legalization on the ballot. By the end of our talk, she was registering and dragging her six young friends to the booth to get registered, too.

Together, we can ensure that this year is that last Boston Freedom Rally to occur under prohibition.

Last week’s Radical Rant: “Let’s Retire “Black Market” From Our Vocabulary

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