‘Ganja sizzles despite rain
Amherst Common once again played host to the annual cannabis celebration known as Extravaganja on Saturday. For the 19th consecutive year, the common was flooded with people, unwashed masses milling, moving and dancing under a thick haze of marijuana smoke.
The weather for this year’s Extravaganja was less than optimal; dark clouds and light drizzles dominated the skies for most of the day. That did not deter the crowd, however, as marijuana enthusiasts from the Pioneer Valley and beyond were in full force. Sleeper tents of all sizes peppered the common to provide festival-goers with temporary relief, as well as to shelter the hard-core who camped out for the event.
The biggest single attraction at Extravaganja was the main stage, which hosted a wide range of artists throughout the day. From 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., a steady stream of rappers, instrumentalists and experimental musicians performed for the crowd. A disc jockey tent was set up at the opposite end of the common which attracted a small core of enthusiastic dancers.
While some small pockets of moshing could be spotted, the crowd at Extravaganja was largely self-involved. The bulk of the assembled crowd was kept busy with Hacky Sack games, hula hoops and smoking circles. Local band, Primate Fiasco, was slotted for the 4:20 p.m. spot, but missed the opportunity to really rile up attendees by starting their set late. The band put on a good show, but the potential energy of the hour was lost under an uncoordinated deluge of sparking Bic lighters and smoking pipes.
The main purpose of Extravaganja, put on by the University of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, is to protest against what they consider the “marijuana prohibition” that exists in this country, as well as to rally around the cause of legalization. The use of marijuana on the commons is permitted during the event by the Amherst Police Department, as per an agreement reached between the police and the CRC. Under the agreement, smoking is viewed as an act of peaceful protest, and no effort is made to penalize those simply using or possessing marijuana within the confines of the event.
Despite the accord, however, eight people were arrested in the area of the commons Saturday. According to a police press release, they were charged not with cannabis possession, but with “various offenses including alcohol violations, motor vehicle offenses and violation of the Amherst open container by-law.” In addition, two individuals were issued civil citations for possession under one ounce, but it is unclear if they were in fact within the boundaries of the event.
As per tradition, the entirety of Amherst Common was ringed with carts and tables, with the all-natural and the far-out selling their wares to the public. Blown glass pipes were by far the most popular item, but vendors on site carried a wide variety of goods including clothing, flags, posters, herbs and vegetarian cuisine. Student-run business, The People’s Market, also had a stand, selling drinks and snacks to their prime customers.
Unfazed by the questionable weather, this year’s Extravaganja went off with hardly a hitch. During the late afternoon the sun even made a brief appearance, warming up the chilly festivities and visibly lifting the mood.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon … which our government was founded.”
Through their use of peaceful assembly and not-so-silent protest, the attendees of Extravaganja reminded the town of Amherst that the prohibition against cannabis does not go unopposed, and that the people’s appetites will not be controlled.
Andrew Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.