At first sight, the Boston Freedom Rally held this past weekend in the Commons was exactly what you would expect it to be. There were endless circles of people passing joints, at least thirty white guys wearing Bob Marley t-shirts, and the words “dude” and “chill” were uttered countless times. Yet, if you kept your ear to the ground and drowned out the crappy reggae music playing, many of the people at the event had serious concerns about marijuana legislation.
I was able to speak with Dr. Uma Dhanabalan who works with Uplifting Health and Wellness. Her primary concern was removing marijuana from its current classification as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I classification implies that marijuana has no proven medical use, high potential for abuse, and is in the “most dangerous” drug category, along with heroin and LSD. Therefore, according to the DEA, drugs like cocaine and OxyContin are considered less dangerous than marijuana. Dr. Dhanabalan, who supports the medical benefits of cannabis, believes that removing this stigma is important to further research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
“Cannabis is not an entrance drug. It’s the exit drug from pharmaceuticals and narcotics. We’ve had patients that have died from over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol and Aspirin, but no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose,” she noted.
Michael Kahn, President and Founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Research Labs (MCR), explained that when he first started his research lab, he experienced a lot of setbacks from both state and local governments.
“I wanted to open in Boston,” he explained, “but we couldn’t. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out where to go in Boston to receive the right permit… I couldn’t even find the right department to [contact].” MCR Labs were able to open in Framingham, but Kahn, a Boston-native, was upset that he was simply unable to talk to anyone about the possibility of opening his lab here in Boston, mentioning, “We are the experts. You’d think we would be able to have more of a conversation.”
There is still ongoing debate about whether or not marijuana should be legalized. Organizers of the event were rallying support for passing legislation that would legalize marijuana in Massachusetts in 2016. Yet, aside from the call for legalization, a pervasive message I heard at the rally was an extreme opposition by many, including our own city government, to further research on the substance. With growing medical uses for marijuana and a national push towards legalization, it seems bizarre that people like Michael Kahn who want to conduct scientific research are being shut down.
I walked around the event for hours, and throughout my stay I did not witness any harassment of law enforcement officials, or any true disturbances at all. In fact, for most of the rally, people basically just laid down on the grass and kept to themselves. Jennifer Correia, one of the event organizers, offered a very insightful message. “My aunt is a state trooper and she says that potheads are her favorite people. They’re mellow; they don’t ever give her any problems. It’s the drunks [they] got to worry about.”
[All photos by Jun Tsuboike]