Thousands gathered Saturday on Boston Common for the Boston Freedom Rally, a festival and protest that was for decades a focal point in the fight to legalize weed — a goal reached nearly three years ago.
The festival, which celebrated its 30th year, was organized by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition and brought together advocates, pot businesses, and customers to an event that mixes a marketplace with a party and demonstration.
But as legal weed is now the law of the state, and marijuana businesses are slowly opening in Massachusetts, there was a growing sense of mission accomplished among crowdgoers.
“Now it feels like a celebration because it’s legal,” said Hayley White, 23, of Beverly. “Before, it felt like we were getting away with something.”
Times have also changed for the rally, which began as a call for the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts, accomplished though a ballot vote in 2016.
Organizers have had to fight for the right to use the Common, and following complaints over litter and damage from last year’s event, Saturday’s festival was cut down to one day from three. Organizers pledged to clean up any trash from this year’s event Sunday.
Bill Downing, an activist who has been involved with the festival for years, helped run a voter registration table Saturday.
Much work remains to be done on the state’s marijuana law, he said, including regulations on payments many companies make to the communities that host them.
“Regardless of whether marijuana is legal or not, the public needs to be educated on an ongoing basis” about the law, he said.
Rusko Boggs, 39, of Worcester, was among the vendors at the festival — his company, Weed Boggs, provides branding and packaging services to local cannabis companies.
Even with legalization, the festival still serves as a demonstration for greater freedom for marijuana users, Boggs said.
“It’s unfortunate that there are places where people can drink and get into their car freely, and there is no place for us to consume cannabis freely,” Boggs said. “And this is what this protest is about.”
As Boggs spoke, crowds milled about Boston Common, either among dozens of tents set up by vendors or seated in the shade of nearby trees.
From a short distance away, a faint haze could be seen above the rally, a manifestation of the public disobedience on the Common.
Boston police did not have any information about arrests Saturday afternoon.
Bridgett Comiskey, 19, a Lesley University student from Long Island, came to the festival to check out the scene and the food. Comiskey doesn’t use pot, but said some do see it as a chance to confront authority.
“It’s a day where people say, ‘We’re going to blow in cops’ faces,’ ” Comiskey said.
Kyle Edwards, 18, of Martha’s Vineyard said he attended the festival to meet up with some friends and “just to get really high.”
He was reminded that while pot is legal, public consumption is not.
“Never stopped me before,” Edwards said.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.