Grow, Gift, Repair

High tension at Boston Freedom Rally hearing

“We see these well-organized events take place in the public common each year and none causes the disruption that the Boston Freedom Rally does,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden. “It has reached a point where organizers have failed to manage it.”

The council hearing yesterday was meant to spur discussion about what actions the city can take to mitigate problems — including relocating it and reducing it from a three-day event to a two- or one-day rally — and leaders of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition said they were open to changes.

But the hearing quickly became hostile when John Swomley, attorney for MassCANN, suggested Councilor Josh Zakim’s father, Lenny Zakim, a Boston civil rights leader, would be ashamed of his son.

Zakim sponsored the hearing, along with Councilor Ed Flynn.

“The Common is not the playground for the people who live around it or your constituents, Mr. Zakim, anymore than it is the first place in this country where free speech was allowed,” Swomley said. “It is the cradle of liberty. That you want to help the well-heeled folk that managed to buy property around the Common to the detriment of free speech is insulting to your father’s name.”

“If you want a fight you are going to get one. Sir, shut your mouth,” Zakim spat back. “You’re going to come here and insult me, insult my family, insult my father who used cannabis while he was dying of cancer, I myself who has been a supporter of cannabis. You want to come up here and start fighting.”

“We are talking about a uniform standard here for the use of our parks,” Zakim added to applause. “If you want to come here and fling insults, we can talk about this outside. Completely unacceptable.”

MassCANN leaders and advocates argued that there is still a federal prohibition and attempts in local municipalities to restrict marijuana sales and use.

Boston Common neighbors argued that the gathering, held since 1989, has outgrown the space.

“This isn’t about the legalization of marijuana,” said Ben Starr, a Beacon Hill resident. “It is about an open-air shopping mall taking over the common.”

MassCANN leaders say they are adjusting to growing pains and are working on keeping the common clean during the event.

“I don’t want stoners to be looked at as savages,” said Shannon Jones, a MassCANN board member. “I was not proud of how the common looked. It is a learning curve we are trying to adjust to as it gets bigger.”