Out on the Town: Boston Freedom Rally

The weekend of Sept. 14–16 marked a very special event for cannabis enthusiasts around the country. The annual Boston Freedom Rally, colloquially known as “Hempfest,” took place on Boston Common. Being relatively new to Massachusetts, I wanted to witness weed culture here, so on a warm Friday morning, I boarded the Red Line to Park Street to learn more about local perception of the divisive drug.

This year marked the 29th edition of Hempfest in Boston. The first festival was held in 1989, acting as a public cry for legalization and de-stigmatization of cannabis. Since then, the spirit of loud activism and civil disobedience has continued, growing in size to become the largest cannabis carnival in Massachusetts. 

For a young traveler looking to attend Hempfest in the future, it is very hard to miss. Much of the Common is reserved for the yearly event, with the vendor tents clearly visible from the subway station. I arrived early, so I had the pleasure of watching vendors of all kinds set up their wares in small booths lining the paved walkways. Many of them dealt almost exclusively in paraphernalia, with an assortment of beautiful glasswork presented on table after table. Everywhere I turned there were pipes, bongs, bubblers and grinders. There were other assorted businesses and causes present, including a booth for a lab that tests the molecular makeup of medical-grade cannabis to ensure it meets state-imposed standards. Completely steeped in weed enthusiasm at the festival, I truthfully felt out of my element, but all the vendors and business owners whom I spoke to were extremely warm and friendly. More than simply a farmer’s market for weed, Hempfest was a unifying experience. Many attendees were fraternizing on the sidewalks with one another, a heartwarming display of solidarity and kinship under the banner of cannabis.

Although positive energy radiated through the Common that Friday morning, there were certainly aspects of the Freedom Rally that I could have done without. On either end of the reserved space sat a stage where musicians came to play throughout the day. Every group that appeared onstage had one and only one motif in all of their songs (weed), and it grew tiresome very quickly. The sheer volume of these performances made the gimmicky music feel almost unavoidable, which certainly put a damper on my experience. There was also a questionable amount of surface-level change at Hempfest. I could’ve sworn that dreadlocks on white people had been rightfully eliminated this decade, but I was sadly mistaken.

Overall, my experience at Hempfest was positive. I derived my enjoyment from the vendors and business owners, rather than the musicians and appropriators of culture. For those who would like to dip their toes into the world of cannabis, I highly recommend checking out the Freedom Rally. For those already familiar, the rally is probably the most convenient place to buy paraphernalia, or actual cannabis if you’re over 21. Despite the negative aspects of the Freedom Rally, I plan on returning next September to soak in — or breathe in, if you will — all the good things Hempfest has to offer.