Live from Boston Freedom Rally: A Smokin’ Hot Party on the Common

Welcome to Leafly’s live 4/20 coverage of the 2018 Boston Freedom Rally. News Editor Ben Adlin is roaming Boston Common all weekend, and he’ll be updating our coverage of news, events, performances, and random weird stuff he sees. Check back often, it’s gonna be wicked fun.

A Not-So-Lazy Sunday

The party’s still going strong on the last day of the Boston Freedom Rally. The sun is out, the bass is thumping, and there are deals aplenty—on everything from glass to t-shirts to exotic crystals—as vendors try to unload their wares before the day is done.

boston freedom rally summit consumption lounge
Nestled away in the festival’s Cannabis Education Village is a VIP cannabis lounge under the dome of a gazebo. (Adlin/Leafly)

The smoke seems to have gotten a bit thicker, too, as the weekend’s gone on. Longtime Freedom Rally attendees tell me they’re impressed at the openness on display. Even outside the 21+ area, vendors are dishing out free dabs, passing out pre-rolls, and offering baggies of bud for (fairly reasonable) cash “donations.” Early in the afternoon, the main stage’s MC tossed handfuls extract samples—which he dubbed “stacks of wax”—into the cheering crowd.

Find Dispensaries Near Boston Common (or Near You) 

Inside the event’s 21+ area, under the dome of a gazebo not far from where people are pressing rosin, about a dozen people are lazing on couches, puffing on joints and chatting. It’s essentially a private consumption site, and it’s sponsored by The Summit Lounge, a Worcester establishment that bills itself as the state’s first private cannabis consumption club.

Kyle Moon, the general manager of The Summit Lounge, greets me as I enter the gazebo, explaining the idea behind the space. “This is just a place for volunteers, VIPS, speakers, organizers,” he says, gesturing to the uniformed volunteers sweating in the midday heat. “We want a place for volunteers who’ve been working their ass off all day to have a place to relax.”

dabs on display
Dabs were on display at a number of the vendor booths on the Common. (Adlin/Leafly)

Worcester’s Ongoing Afterparty

“A huge problem is, where can people consume cannabis?” Moon says in a thick New England accent. “Technically even what we’re doing here, it’s illegal.”

Moon himself, he tells me, is a recovering opioid addict and doesn’t actually consume cannabis. But his brother is a medical cannabis patient, and after the state voted in 2016 to legalize the plant for adult use, that brother hatched a plan.

“We went out to dinner with my brother one time, and he’s like, ‘I have this amazing idea,’” Moon says. But when the brother first explained the concept of a cannabis lounge, it wasn’t well received. “We were like, ‘No fuckin’ way,’” Moon said. “‘There is no way that is legal.’”

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They talked to a lawyer, who at first agreed. But then the lawyer came back, Moon says, telling the family, “I think you might be on to something here.”

The lounge opened in early 2018, and even Moon acknowledges it’s the result of a legal loophole (“A loophole means legal, right?”). By establishing a private club—strictly BYOC, no onsite sales—the family-run business is able to allow people to consume without running afoul of Massachusetts’s ban on consumption in public spaces.

Summit Lounge Doesn’t Sell Cannabis. Find a Dispensary Nearby!

Members pay $15 a month to be a part of the club, plus $5 every time they visit. Guests can drop by for a flat $15 fee. The space has the feel of “an Amsterdam Coffeeshop with a modern industrial feel” Moon says, with lots of exposed wood, bar tables, and comfy couches.

Moon is clear that the vision isn’t exactly to make the spot a haven for stoners. “We don’t want to be known as a place you can go and smoke weed; we want to be known as a place where you can go and find people with common interests and socialize,” he says. “Just like people who go out to a bar, they’re not necessarily going to drink, they’re going to have a good time.”

“Where else can you find a place where everyone else has a similar common interest to you, i.e. marijuana?” he asks. Adults who enjoy cannabis, or even medical patients, often “feel segmented from the population,” he says, “even though, as you can see, there are thousands of people who smoke cannabis.”

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So far, he says, it’s been a success. While he personally makes just $200 a week from the shop, he tells me, the space is quickly becoming a hub of the cannabis community—and has yet to run into any major problems aside from initial skepticism from municipal officials.

“Cops haven’t shown up, we haven’t had to kick one person out. Everything has been fuckin’ amazing, honestly,” Moon says. “The community has been so supportive of us.”

Can’t stand the thought of Boston Freedom Rally’s end? Rest assured there’s a small-scale version less than an hour’s drive away.

A Word From a Cannabis Commissioner

boston freedom rally shaleen title
Shaleen Title, a member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, spoke to the crowd about the need for equity in the newly legal industry. In the next issue of our news podcast, “The Roll-Up,” we’ll hear more about how steep licensing fees could be keeping out small businesses. (Adlin/Leafly)

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Saturday on the Common

Day two of the Boston Freedom Rally began under cloudy skies, but festival goers didn’t seem to care. Turnout was easily double or triple Friday’s, and all three stages (full schedule here) were going strong by early afternoon, with musical performances, celebrity speakers, and educational panels throughout the day.

The sun peeked out from behind the gloom around 3 p.m., brightening an expanding tent city of vendors and food stands abuzz with free giveaways, two-for-one deals, and deep discounts on all sorts of products, including an array of glass—some of it made by hand right here in Boston.

boston freedom rally glass artists
There’s a fair amount of lookalike glass here, but if you look hard enough you’ll find good selection of local pieces, like these by Somerville–based artist Visionary Glass. (Adlin/Leafly)

While there’s a clear focus on consumption—if you have a nose, it’s hard to ignore—the festival is multidimensional. There are stations to learn about terpenes, advocacy groups signing up volunteers, and speakers emphasizing the need for continued policy reform.

Bring Your Own Bud, Press Your Own Rosin

New this year to the Boston Freedom Rally is a booth run by rosin press manufacturer Rosin Tech that allows visitors to press their own cannabis into delicious-smelling rosin (like we did once with our rickety Walmart-bought dab press). You’ll find the booth in the Cannabis Education Village, a 21+ area where I keep hearing there are free samples, though I’ve haven’t actually seen many.

When I stopped by on Friday evening, Blake Marinaro of Chumsford, MA, was at work pressing a few homegrown grams of the strain 5G’s Blue.

rosin-tech-rosin-press
Friendly folks at Rosin Tech’s booth, in the Cannabis Education Village (21+), will let you turn your buds into potent, delicious rosin for dabbing. (Adlin/Leafly)

It’s a hands-on way to help consumers on the East Coast, where dabs still regularly raise eyebrows, better understand the relationship between flower and extracts. If you had the foresight to bring your own cannabis, pay Rosin Tech’s booth a visit and get squishing. They’ll even let you borrow a rig—though you might as well pick up one of your own on the cheap from one of the festival’s many vendors.

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This is a keytar busker in a big fuzzy sock monkey head. That’s all we know. (Adlin/Leafly)

Pushing for Continued Progress

“Give it up to the advocates out there!” New Jersey–based cannabis activist Ed Forchion, aka NJWeedman, shouted from the St. Charles stage, noting that he missed last year’s Freedom Rally because he had to deal with criminal charges in his home state.

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“Over the years I’ve been jailed, imprisoned for telling the truth publicly,” he said, explaining that he’s beaten most of those charges as the result of jury nullification.

While New Jersey has made steady progress on legalization, it’s still far behind Massachusetts—a beacon of progress on the East Coast.

“I’m very, very happy to be in Boston this year,” Forchion said. “Smoke it up, feel good. You’re on the winning side. You’re on the side of righteousness.”

Ed Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, brings greetings from the Garden State. (Adlin/Leafly)

Bong ring toss: as popular as candlepin bowling. This woman won a pre-roll. (Adlin/Leafly)

Friday: Kicking Off the Party

BOSTON — The East Coast’s largest cannabis festival kicked off Friday afternoon on Boston Common, with thousands descending on the grassy park to celebrate new freedoms and push for continued progress.

The Boston Freedom Rally, first held in 1989, is the country’s second-largest annual gathering dedicated to cannabis reform after Seattle’s HempFest, and this year’s event comes at an unusual time in Massachusetts history. Voters here legalized cannabis nearly two years ago, but so far not a single retail shop has opened, and festivalgoers are warned of steep fines for lighting up in public.

Offering or Seeking?

Part of the action on Friday afternoon. (Ben Adlin/Leafly)

“Remember, you’re not supposed to smoke pot on the Common,” Bill Flynn, president of event organizer MassCann, said onstage as he kicked off the festivities on Friday.

But few here seem to care. After all, Flynn said with a grin, this is an event that’s all about civil disobedience. And it’s widely understood that while Boston police haven’t quite reached the level of Seattle’s—who are known to hand out munchies to elevated Hempfest revelers—it’s still pretty safe to light up. Just be smart about it, one regular tells me as he pops open a container for me to smell.

Corn Dogs & Fried Dough = Late Lunch

Folks were already showing up on Friday afternoon to hit the vendor booths and culinary treats. (Ben Adlin/Leafly)

Getting high, though, is just one reason people are here. The Freedom Rally is also one of the East Coast’s largest free music festivals, with nearly three full days of live performances (you can see the full lineup here). On top of that, there are great deals on glass and other accessories, a bounty of fair food, and an assortment of other vendors, information booths, and activist organizations.

Never been? Check out our event guide for tips on how to do the Boston Freedom Rally right. As for me, I’m off to find some food and wander up to the top of the hill, which is a perfect place to spread out a blanket and enjoy the sights.

We’re Underway. Douse That Joint!

Where is everybody? At the food trucks. (Ben Adlin/Leafly)

Are you in the area? Drop by! I’ll be wandering the Common all weekend, and the rest of the Leafly team will be manning a booth in the event’s “Education Village,” teaching people about terpenes and getting ready for the launch of the East Coast’s first regulated retail cannabis market.

Legalization isn’t here in its entirety, but you sure can smell it coming.

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