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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

“Hope for the future of the cannabis industry”: Boston Freedom Rally returns to Boston Common despite weather delays

Amin S. Lotfi
A Hawker for one of the stands at the 2023 Freedom Rally. For a small fee, fairgoers can spin the wheel for certain prizes.

After getting delayed by Hurricane Lee, the 2023 Boston Freedom Rally—colloquially known as Hempfest—came to the Boston Common on a summer-like Sunday on Sept. 17. 

The annual event, organized by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), aims to educate people on cannabis reform. More than 2,000 people began roaming the Common after the festival opened at noon, and by 3 p.m., people were packing, rolling, and lighting up on the hill listening to the thumping bass from the live concert where rapper C-Millzy was performing.

This year’s event, however, was noticeably impacted by a weather delay, resulting in fewer stalls than in previous years.

“There is certainly a smaller number of vendors, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” vendor Lucas Fair said as he set up his farm-fresh produce stand. “It’s likely to be lower attendance. 

After MassCann announced last Thursday that the event would be held a day later than planned, vendors and organizers quickly updated their social media platforms, considered safety concerns, readjusted plans with speakers and performers, and “accommodate an increasing frequency of dramatic weather events.”

“We had approximately 24 hours to change the date and plan for this event,” Fair continued “The hosts for the event have been working tirelessly since the governor declared the state of emergency.”

Despite the delay, many of the regular vendors still made an appearance, including Raphael, who declined to share his last name, and sold functional glassware across the concessions near Earl of Sandwich. 

“I’ve been doing this [for] about 12-18 years, selling some American and China glass pieces,” he said. “I have a different job outside of this, and only do this once a year.”

Although the event was advertised under the theme of “Knowledge is Power,” Raphael said, “vendors are just here to sell stuff, it’s our fees that help fund most of this event. Most of the people who buy are college students or newcomers to the city.”

Another vendor, Jordan, who declined to share his last name, sold t-shirts and other items for the company Highly Infused. It was his second time at the event. 

“It’s awesome,” he said. “[It] gives me a little hope for the future of the industry. Festivals like these make small vendors feel like they have a chance to get their foot in the door in the legal scene and not like we are getting booted out.”

Bryan, who declined to share his last name, is a vendor from New York representing Jay’s Exotic Gas who attended the event for the first time. 

“[I’m] expecting to meet a lot of new people, trying to meet people from the Boston area, show them what we are all about,” he said. “We’re all about great customer service, giving people the best price for the best gas possible.”

During the event, MassCann hosted a variety of speakers on the stage in front of the Common gazebo, including representatives of the United Food and Commercial workers local union 1445 and Brenda Quintana with Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)—an organization dedicated to the welfare of cannabis workers—who were raising awareness about the struggles of workers in the Massachusetts legal cannabis industry.

“We can support workers with navigating a workers’ compensation claim, filing a complaint with OSHA, or learning more about what their rights are, so not just health and safety but wage and hours, discrimination,” said Brenda Quintana. “If you really feel like something is going wrong at work that you need help with, we can talk you through it.”  

Despite the legal status of cannabis in Massachusetts, there is more work to be done for cannabis reform, according to Lisa Napert, a member liaison for MassCann.

“Just because it was legalized doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of areas that need to be fixed or refined, as well as rewritten,” Napert said. “This year’s “Knowledge [is] Power” theme is getting back to the grassroots of what this organization was fighting for, which is equitable access for everyone.”

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About the Contributor
Amin S. Lotfi
Amin S. Lotfi, Staff Photographer

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