Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
There was something different in the air today at the 20th annual Boston Freedom Rally at the Boston Common. And it wasn’t just the clouds of pungent marijuana smoke.
It was the first time the rally organized by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coailition had been held since voters passed Proposition 2 last November, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The changed law gave attendees reason to celebrate and a better chance of not getting arrested -- a scenario organizers say is a welcome change for the event, which has caused controversy over the years, including many arrests and multiple legal battles with the city over permitting issues.
The new law decriminalizes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. But that did not stop police from handing out handfuls of $100 tickets when they caught festival-goers with pot.
Sean McGivney, 19, of Hampton, N.H., was one of several interviewed who received tickets.
“We were sitting politely, minding our own business, making a point not to smoke when people were around,” he said. “That is when a guy came up and told us to ‘hand it over.’”
McGivney said he was pleased the laws had become more lenient, but added, “I don’t think it’s enough."
In past years, many attending the rallies have smoked marijuana openly as an act of civil disobedience. The event has been held at Boston Common since 1992.
"After years of helplessly watching Boston Police bag harmless stoners, it will be a joy to see people enjoying themselves without the threat or fear of arrest," Dr. Keith Saunders, president of MassCann/NORML, said on the rally’s website.
Officer Joseph Zanoli, spokesman for the Boston Police Department, said that by midafternoon 100 tickets had been given out and three arrests were made for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
“From our reports, the assembly was peaceful and orderly,” he said.
In previous years, attendees caught smoking marijuana were often detained and charged with criminal offenses. Last year’s rally, described by police spokesman James Kenneally as "rather orderly" resulted in six arrests, much fewer than in previous years. In 2006, for example, 53 were arrested for marijuana possession.
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