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Thousands gather in Amherst Commons for 23rd Annual Extravaganja

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Marijuana activists and enthusiasts alike gathered in the center of Amherst on Saturday to celebrate the 23rd Annual Extravaganja Festival. The event, put on each year by the UMass Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition, is a day of celebrating and rallying support for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. Over 2000 people from all over New England gathered under a smoky haze on the town green to listen to live music, browse various vendors and enjoy the beautiful weather in support of the cause.

The event featured live performances from local musicians starting at noon and running until the end of the festival at 6 p.m. Amherst-based beat-boxer Honeycomb, winner of last month’s UMass Battle of the Bands, kicked off the show, which also featured performances from local bands Bootystank, Elephant, Ballads and Softcore Porn, and The Frotations. Vendors surrounded the perimeter of commons, selling food, clothing, jewelry and artwork. Smoking paraphernalia and cannabis-infused snacks were among the more popular items for sale.

Between bands, the organizers of Extravaganja preached the benefits of legalizing marijuana to an enthusiastic crowd. The only other occurrence that interrupted the steady stream of music was the announcement of the time at 4:20 p.m., upon which everyone stopped to cheer.

Not only is April 20 every marijuana smoker’s favorite holiday, but it is the original birthday of Extravaganja itself. Established in 1991, the UMass CRC is the oldest student-run drug law reform organization in the United States. Each year, they host Extravaganja as a way to spread the word about their mission to legalize marijuana. Through music, food and friends, the CRC continues to win the hearts of college students and Amherst residents, keeping it one of the largest and most active student organizations at UMass.

The CRC works closely with Amherst town officials and police to organize Extravaganja each year. In exchange for the promise of a peaceful celebration, the Amherst police agree to turn a blind eye to the various activities happening on the commons for the duration of Extravaganja. Participants in Extravaganja are technically breaking state and federal law by smoking in the commons, but in a liberal town like Amherst, even the higher-ups recognize the benefits of legalizing this much-celebrated plant.

The CRC and marijuana activists use the mellow atmosphere surrounding marijuana-smoking to their advantage when comparing it to the often more destructive effects of alcohol. President of the CRC Sebastian Vivas compared Extravaganja to the annual UMass drinking catastrophe that is the Blarney Blowout.

“It goes to show the difference between alcohol and marijuana,” Vivas said. “One substance can lead to people having a more positive experience in their community and the other can lead to chaos, but it is still legal. That doesn’t make sense.”

During this year’s Blarney Blowout, 58 arrests were made. Extravaganja has a reputation of being a much more respectful and mellow event, but that is not to say that the festival has always gone without incident. Police arrested six people at the festival in 2007 and two more the following year for the possession of marijuana, which was considered a Class D substance in Massachusetts at the time. The law changed in November of 2008 when Massachusetts voters approved Question 2 and decriminalized the possession of an ounce of less of marijuana, punishable instead with a $100 fine.

The road to legalization is still a long one for the perpetually patient residents of Amherst. As of this time, only Colorado and Washington have completely legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the United States. Massachusetts was the 12th state to decriminalize the possession of under an ounce of marijuana with Oregon, California, Nevada, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Alaska all supporting similar medical and decriminalization laws. Until the time that legalization becomes a tangible reality, Extravaganja will continue to provide the residents of Amherst and the surrounding areas with a respectful, mature environment in which they can celebrate and reap the benefits of cannabis in all its forms.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Thousands gather in Amherst Commons for 23rd Annual Extravaganja”
  1. CJ says:

    On behalf of some elms students. I wonder when is extravaganja this year? And also how to rent a tent cite?

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