As Massachusetts voters prepare to decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use, thousands of people who support use of the drug filled Boston Common on Saturday for an annual gathering featuring music, food, and plenty of smoking.
Volunteers who support the ballot initiative fanned out across the park to register voters while others held signs promoting Yes on 4, the campaign promoting the measure.
“The ballot initiative does accomplish our final goal,” said Bill Downing, member liaison for Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, also known as MassCann. “Our expectation is that it will pass handily.”
MassCann organized the annual, two-day event known as the Freedom Rally, which dates back to 1989. The rally came after organizers went to court Friday to force the city of Boston to allow MassCann’s food vendors to participate.
The group said the city had withheld a permit for the rally until the last minute because it objected to MassCann using its own vendors.
Downing kept a copy of the court order with him at MassCann’s tent.
“We knew from the start that the city’s demands were unconstitutional,” Downing said. “I can’t say that it was unexpected.”
No arrests were made at the event, according to a Boston police spokesman.
Representatives from the organization Yes on 4, which is separate from MassCann, were on hand to register voters and speak with people at the rally’s “Education Village,” but did not have a designated spot at the event, said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the group.
The campaign is set to begin television advertising next month and also plans to promote the ballot initiative during debates, seminars, and meetings with editorial boards and opinion writers, he said.
Borghesani described the rally as an opportunity to meet with the cause’s most ardent supporters.
“It’s not like every person who uses marijuana is here,” he said. “There are very committed activists here. We just want to make sure that commitment translates into votes.”
The ballot question seeks to legalize the possession, use, and giving away of an ounce or less of marijuana for recreational use by adults aged 21 and older as of Dec. 15.
Retail sales could begin in January 2018. Marijuana for some medical purposes is already legal in Massachusetts.
The measure is opposed by the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts and a host of the state’s top political leaders, including Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey.
State Senator Jason Lewis, a member of the steering committee for the opposition group, said voters should reject the measure, saying it would introduce a billion-dollar industry that “places its own profits ahead of public health and public safety.”
“This ballot question is the wrong approach at the wrong time in Massachusetts,” Lewis said.
Downing said MassCann has published special editions of its newsletter, Mass Grass, to rebut the findings of a Senate report issued in March that warned of legalization’s dangers. The newsletter covers topics such as the economic benefits of legalized marijuana and cites a study that found a link between the legalization of medical marijuana and a drop in traffic fatalities.
“Our whole point really is to make sure adults are allowed to use cannabis in a responsible manner,” Downing said.
Loida Torres of Fitchburg said she has used medical marijuana for three years to treat chronic pain and wants the ballot measure to pass.
“I just want this to be a little more legalized,” she said. “Drinking, I think, is worse than smoking.”
Some at the rally said they support the measure, but are unsure whether it will get them to the polls.
“I definitely would think about it,” said Miranda Barone, who lives in Randolph. “I just support everything that marijuana has to offer us.”