Taking The High Ground
Participants Present Their Cases For Pot Legalization
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
A great cloud rose over the Boston Common Saturday, Sept. 15, as thousands of people from all over New England gathered for the 23rd Boston Freedom Rally. Bringing together speakers, musicians, and many different kinds of vendors, the rally serves as a yearly gathering point for marijuana legalization advocates to get together and protest the government’s drug policy.
Beginning at 12 p.m., people of all different sorts streamed into the Common. Although the college age cohort seemed to make up the majority of those in attendance, there were some Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers as well. Most people gathered in circles on the lawns near the two large stages to smoke.
The rally was organized by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, or MassCann. Founded in 1970, NORML has vocally opposed the marijuana coalition as a non-profit public-interest advocacy group. According to the NORML website, the organization’s mission “is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.”
As the Massachusetts branch of NORML, MassCann has worked since 1989 to influence policymakers and voters to change marijuana laws in the state. The group was instrumental in the passage of the 2008 ballot measure that decriminalized the possession of under an ounce of marijuana in the state.
In addition to staging rallies, the group is currently campaigning across the state for the passage of Question 3 on the ballot in November. Question 3 is an initiative backed by the ACLU, the Massachusetts Advocacy Alliance, and the Committee for Compassionate Medicine that would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for the medical use of marijuana. Furthermore, the act would establish state-regulated centers for the distribution of medical marijuana.
One of the main focal points of the afternoon was the series of speakers that MassCann lined up to advocate for the end of the prohibition on marijuana. Ranging from former law enforcers, to medical doctors, to a sitting congressman, the speakers represented a variety of different fields and interests.
John Decker, a representative of the national office of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) spoke about the work his organization does in mobilizing students on college campuses across the country. He highlighted the success of student led initiatives in changing state legislation and persuading voters.
Jack Cole, a founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke about his experience in the War on Drugs. Retired after 26 years in the New Jersey sey state police, Cole described his experience and portrayed the War on Drugs as destructive and a failure.
Keith Stroup, a lawyer and founder of NORML, took a broad perspective to the question of legalizing marijuana. He framed the issue in the context of the changes that have occurred in the public’s opinion of the issue since the organization was founded in 1970. He also stressed the importance of understanding the marijuana smoking experience.
“Marijuana improves the appreciation of food, music, and sex,” Stroup said. “We [marijuana smokers] work hard and contribute to the community. This is an issue of personal freedom.”
The keynote speaker of the event was the 16-term U.S. congressman from Massachusetts’ 4th district, Barney Frank. An avid supporter of marijuana legalization, Frank spoke about his efforts to end the marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts and the United States at large.
“I am fighting for a measure that will reduce crime and make money for the government,” Frank said. “At this festival, there is no fighting and no anger. If this were a beer festival, the cops would have been busy breaking up fights. There is no logical standard for prohibiting marijuana; it is a cultural bias. We could save money on prisons and the judicial system.”
While Frank stressed the work that still needed to be done, he also acknowledged the work that had already been accomplished. He recognized several of the organizations that were sponsoring the event for the work that they had done and urged them to continue their efforts.
Throughout the event, there were police and park rangers circling around the park. They ignored the people openly smoking in the park within their eyesight, however.