Let Freedom Ring

During last year’s election, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was fond of saying that the real America can be found in small rural towns—attempting to demonize more diverse, urban states like New York and Massachusetts. Which is ridiculous, considering that New York was once our nation’s capital, and Massachusetts is practically the birthplace of America. In fact, it’s in Massachusetts that the battle for our civil liberties continues to be waged—be it the right of gays to marry, or the right of a responsible adult to smoke a joint. So I was honored when, last September, I was invited by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition to speak at their annual Freedom Rally at Boston Commons.

Things had been coming to a boil in Beantown for months. For the third time in the past decade, the city had attempted to suppress the rally by issuing MassCann a permit that didn’t allow for food vending, which is essential in funding the event. In response, MassCann filed for an injunction against the city and—as in the past—won the case. But a much bigger political battle was still brewing—namely Question 2, a ballot initiative that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of weed, making it a violation punishable by a $100 fine rather than arrest. The initiative had been polling at close to 70 percent public approval, which of course had local law enforcement and religious leaders fuming.

I hit the Commons at noon on Saturday and helped my co-workers Rick Cusick and Danny Danko set up the High Times booth, where we spent most of the day selling HT gear and fraternizing with the fans. I’d been to the rally once before (three years ago), but the gorgeous weather and the excitement over Question 2 amplified this year’s attendance and energy level. There were over a dozen musical acts performing, including a Southern-style metal group called Graveyard BBQ, who invited me onto their bus for a smoke-out. By the time I emerged half an hour later, blazed and dazed, it was time for me to take the stage.

“This rally is an amazing testament to what we can do,” I shouted to the nearly 10,000-strong crowd. “It’s proof that stoners can get together and have a great time, and we’re no danger to society, we’re no danger to anybody—we can party and have fun and be responsible people. Stoners vote too, man! So get out there and vote—and vote ‘yes’ on Question 2!”

Danny spoke next and, along with MassCann’s Steve Epstein, helped usher in 4:20 with chants of “No Cuffs for Cannabis!” Then Graveyard BBQ ended the event with a killer set that brought all the day’s speakers and organizers back onstage for a final head-banging hoorah.

Before driving home on Sunday, I set out to walk the Freedom Trail—a red line running through the streets that begins at the Commons and links many of the city’s most famous historical sites. I passed statues of Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere, the Old North Church and Old Granary Burying Ground, and ended my journey into the past by smoking a joint at Boston Harbor. It was here, back in 1773, that a group of radical activists protested against unjust taxes and unfair treatment by their government by dumping a shipment of tea into the sea—in effect, kick-starting the American Revolution. As kids, we’re all taught in history class that these were the noble actions of citizens standing up for their liberty. Yet today, if people committed similar acts, they would be labeled domestic terrorists and traitors.

We must never let hypocrites like Sarah Palin and George Bush define what it means to be a “real” American in terms of obedience to authority, the color of our collar or the size of our city. Instead, let us remember that we are a nation founded by intellectuals and rebels, that our diversity is what makes us great, and that the true patriot is the citizen who is courageous enough to risk his or her own safety and reputation to speak out against injustice and oppression. That is the true spirit of America, and the spirit that we celebrated on the Commons that sunny September day.

Six weeks later, on November 4, the McCain/Palin ticket was soundly defeated, and Question 2 passed by a margin of nearly two to one, making the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the 13th state to decriminalize marijuana (among the others, ironically: Palin’s home state of Alaska). Hmm … 13 states for legalization, 13 original colonies—could that be another revolution I smell brewing? Or is it just the tea?

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