A Disorganized Festival

By Jaron Lewin Berlin

Hannah Cohen/Collegian
Hannah Cohen/Collegian

According to the Cannabis Reform Coalition, Extravaganja is intended to “increase active support for marijuana legislation.” On two days this past weekend, law enforcement allowed people to gather in the commons of Amherst and smoke marijuana freely without handing out many tickets. If someone is seen smoking outside of the venue or is seen drinking alcohol or selling drugs there were consequences. But in general, as long as people are respectful of the boundaries of the event, smokers are not bothered. This year at Extravaganja there were 17 tickets handed out with no arrests, according to Masslive.com.

I went to Extravaganja this year, observing how the legalization of marijuana is supported by the event. All I saw was a lot of people getting stoned and many vendors in the area selling mainly bowls, food and tie-dyed tee shirts. I also saw some people who brought small children to the event, exposing them to serious levels of second hand smoke.

I know marijuana is not a dangerous drug, but I don’t believe it should be allowed to be used in the vicinity of 8-year-old kids. The fact that the Commons is a public area and that marijuana use is acceptable during the festival is okay in my book, but I do believe there should be some kind of an age minimum.

Most of the stage time at Extravaganja is devoted to a wide variety of music. Some time is also given to speakers from the Cannabis Reform Coalition and other similar organizations, including John Sinclair, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to sell weed to undercover police officers. Sinclair’s struggles influenced John Lennon to write a song about him and led to the decriminalization of marijuana in Ann Arbor, Mich.

This was due to the fact that, as a public figure, his arrest uncovered the absurdity of anti-marijuana legislation and lead to an enormous rally for his freedom, not because he gathered a lot of people in one area to smoke weed.

I saw someone on stage speaking about the need for people to band together and fight against the “prohibition” of marijuana. Although his sentiment was clear, he had very little to say about what actually should be. He was rambling about how people should send letters to Barack Obama about how marijuana should be legalized. Seriously, I’m sure Obama has more important things to do than read letters from people who want to be able to get high without being bothered by authority.

All of his speaking about the need to group together and legalize weed was met with a vast silence, while any mention about getting high and having fun was met with intense cheering. All these people are doing is preaching to the choir. I’m sure many people who showed up in Amherst to smoke weed are already in support of its legalization, and they do not need to be reminded of the benefits of legalizing marijuana use.

I believe in the cause of the legalization of marijuana. If marijuana was sold and taxed it would create billions of dollars each year in revenue. Marijuana is also a considerably less harmful drug than many which are available on the market with very limited restrictions. It causes less health problems than alcohol, tobacco or fast foods and no matter how much is inhaled no amount is fatal, although several over the counter drugs, including aspirin and Tylenol have potentially fatal side effects. However, the methods which are used at Extravaganja seem ineffective at supporting the legalization of the drug.

A bunch of people getting together to smoke weed in public and listen to jam bands does nothing to convince anyone that marijuana should be legalized. The organizations should be focused on spreading awareness of the benefits of legalizing marijuana to people who aren’t already convinced.

The prohibition of alcohol was repealed due to the efforts of well organized groups, such as Americans Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) and the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (VCL) who devoted their time to repealing the amendment legally, gaining the support of influential Americans and drafting repeal resolutions. None of these groups made any successful headway by having everyone hang out in the town center and get drunk. They were able to change the law by taking appropriate steps and actions. I support the legislation the CRC is attempting to pass, but I believe there are better methods to achieve its success than setting up a festival.

It would be more effective if the thousands of people who showed up to Extravaganja actually grouped together and rallied for the cause, instead of sitting around and getting stoned.

Jaron Lewin-Berlin is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at  [email protected].