Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition

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The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), the state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (MassCann/NORML or MC/N), is a non-profit public education organization working for the moderation of marijuana laws. MassCann/NORML organizes the Freedom Rally on Boston Common every third Saturday in September. The MC/N newsletter, Mass Grass, is published six times annually. Membership is open to the public and leadership is democratically elected at the annual winter membership meeting, usually held in March.


MassCann/NORML was founded October 21, 1990, by Steven S. Epstein, Linda Noel, Madelyn Webster, Gary Insuik, Christopher Perron, John Miqliorini, Therese Slye and Ron Massad. Linda Noel was the first president and was also active with the High Times Freedom Fighters. Steven Epstein was the first clerk and Madelyn (Maddy) Webster was the first treasurer. In 1991 Dave Getchell was elected president, but after just a few months Dave handed the job to Bill Downing who served as president until 2004. Steven Epstein, an attorney, was elected treasurer in 1991 and remained treasurer through January 2012.

MassCann/NORML seeks to raise public awareness about Cannabis sativa's use and potential in Massachusetts To those ends MC/N leaders and members have written, published, spoken, debated, marched, rallied, organized, donated, illustrated, and otherwise volunteered in numerous ways.

MassCann/NORML events

The group organizes the Freedom Rally held on the third Saturday in September on Boston Common. It is traditionally the second largest annual gathering demanding marijuana law reform in the United States, after the Seattle Hempfest. MC/N has successfully sued the City of Boston for permits for the Freedom Rally three times.

Other MC/N events include:

  • Co-sponsorship of two Harvard Law School conferences on drug policy, first on May 18, 1991 and second on May 21, 1994.
  • A July 11, 1992 protest and march in Chelmsford, Massachusetts in opposition to the taking of the Farmer family residence by forfeiture.
  • Tax Day protests from 1994 until 1998, calling for the taxation of regulated marijuana sales, held at the last post office open in the state on Tax Day, the Boston Postal Annex. At one of those protests hundreds of ounce bags of marijuana seed were thrown to the crowd.
  • Annual Boston participation in the Global Marijuana March from 2004 on.
  • Benefit shows in rock clubs around Boston.


MC/N has virtually no overhead costs, with neither personnel nor offices. Every action of MassCann/NORML is done by volunteers.

The MassCann/NORML board of directors and officers were honored as High Times Freedom Fighters of the Month. March 2012 saw many long-term directors stepping down and first-time directors coming in. A women's group was formed that intends to inform the Massachusetts public of benefits for women's issues such as premenstrual stress. Co-founder attorney Steve Epstein has departed. Bill Downing is among long-term directors remaining on board.

Various sub-chapters of MC/N have been formed over the years, the most notable of which is the University of Massachusetts Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition (UMassCRC). Their annual spring Extravaganja rally on Amherst Common has grown in popularity over the years.

MassCann/NORML legislative partners

In the 1990s MC/N worked closely with the ACLU-Massachusetts Drug Policy Task Force and the Massachusetts Coalition for Medical Cannabis or MC2 on legislative issues including:

Passage of the Bertonazzi bill: An act creating a marijuana therapeutic research program in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 1992. It is codified at M.G.L. c. 94D. Over 14,000 signatures were gathered in this effort

Passage of the Joe Hutchins Act: A medical necessity defense for the possession of marijuana which was signed by Governor William Weld in August 1997. It is codified at M.G.L. c. 94C, s. 34.

In 1999 MassCann/NORML activists formed the Committee for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CRML) in support of a proposed statewide ballot initiative that would decriminalize adult possession of marijuana in Massachusetts. Though the all-volunteer signature drive gathered over 20,000 signatures, it fell short of the required 57,000 and the initiative effort was abandoned.

Beginning in 1996 MassCann/NORML activists targeted state senatorial and representative districts with public policy questions on local ballots. These non-binding ballot questions were run in districts where the senator or representative held sway over and stood in opposition to medicinal cannabis or decriminalization legislation. The questions, when approved, told the legislator to introduce and support medicinal cannabis or decriminalization legislation. The legislators were free to disobey these directives from their constituencies (as they are non-binding), but by doing so would demonstrate disrespect for the wishes of the voters.

Eventually public policy questions were run in 41 districts. Some were run by former MassCann/NORML board members who formed the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (DPFMA). Every one of the 41 public policy questions run up until now has passed with an average of 63% of the voters in support (almost 2 to 1). The results from these public policy questions caught the attention of the Marijuana Policy Project and inspired their funding of a statewide decriminalization ballot initiative. That initiative passed by a comfortable 30+ point margin (34.8% opposed; 65.2% for).

See also

Legality of cannabis

Removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act

Marijuana Policy Project

California Senate Bill 420