Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Does legality even matter anymore?

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Coming up this weekend is the Extravaganja event in downtown Amherst, adjacent to the University of Massachusetts campus. For those who don’t know about Extravaganja, it is a town-supported event that allows marijuana, trees, bud, weed, what have you, to be smoked without prosecution from law enforcement on the Amherst Town Common. There is also live music and vendors selling food and marijuana culture-related items.

The event draws pro-marijuana supporters far and wide, as well as a very large number of students from UMass and other surrounding colleges. I have nothing negative to say about human consumption of marijuana and I am not going to play into the alcohol versus marijuana argument. What I am here to argue however, is whether or not our local law-enforcement has a moral or legal center.

Not to be a broken record, but we probably all remember the “Blarney Blowout” from several weeks ago. The drinking themed community party caused over 70 arrests, as well as some staunch criticism over how well the police handled the situation. Even before the event, students at UMass received emails from the school administration advising not to attend “Blarney Blowout,” with threats of school related punishment and/or arrest.

In the midst of all this drama, it can be easy to forget the fact that drinking alcohol is completely legal. Bear in mind that you have to be 21 to drink and you can’t be drinking outside in public – two issues surely present at “Blarney Blowout” – yet all in all alcohol is still a legal substance.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is not a legal substance. Now weed, in Massachusetts, at least is at the decriminalization level. Possession of an ounce or less without intent to sell, if you are at least 21 years old, is a simple infraction much like a traffic violation in a car. Several years ago, this was not the case. Marijuana was very much illegal in any amount. In fact, Extravaganja was started over 20 years ago when weed was still completely illegal. So, every year the Town of Amherst, along with the police force, knowingly allows people to commit a crime if they so chose.

As far as I can tell, the town and school openly oppose and prosecute those involved with a celebration centered around a legally sold substance while also turning a blind eye to the law – for a day – to allow the mass public consumption of an illegal substance. Something doesn’t sit quite right about this whole situation.

What is law enforcement without the enforcement of laws? One could argue that it is necessary for a police officer to have a strong moral compass and to make decisions based on situation and circumstance. One could also say that with marijuana steadily being legalized around the country, the police are simply falling in line with the inevitable.

All I can think of, though, is what rules exactly are our police officers following? If our community strives to break up an event based around something we can buy in businesses all across town yet allows us to toke right in front of cops just because it is the right day, how can our officers have a clear idea what their job is? It seems to me, that this hypocritical concern and lack of involvement opens an ugly door that could allow police officers to perceive the law much more subjectively at their own whim. Furthermore, are Amherst police even allowed to arrest or ticket students at Extravaganja, or is it simply agreed upon within the community that they cannot? Who exactly is responsible for adherence to the law?

All of those who participate on Saturday will be breaking state and federal law without repercussions. Like I said, I have nothing negative to say about marijuana at all, but I believe that if we are going to have rules, they need to be clear-cut. Laws cannot be left up to the interpretation of the police, the prosecutor, the town, the judge or anyone else. Laws need to be set in stone so that we can make an unbiased decision one way or another.

Whether we don’t provide the proper outlet for college students to drink, or provide an entirely different outlet to get stoned, either way we are handling the situation wrong. You cannot build a system of control only to follow it sometimes – we might as well take away the right to a speedy trial and legal representation as well. Pulling even this single rock from the foundation of this wall could cause a speedy collapse.

Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • S

    Syd BarrettApr 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

    I don’t know what’s crazier, so many people taking drugs with such a cavalier attitude, or so many “educated” people wasting so much time/energy on cannabis reform and marijuana trade shows.

  • C

    Colorado CitizenApr 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    SnoopDoggsBrain: Drug related crime is down in CO. Recreational MJ sales tax is up. Expected tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales is expected to be somewhere around 98 million dollars. That money will be used to fund schools as well as drug education programs for children. We are certainly not morons as you proclaim in your tired diatribe. I am sure the “facts” on the federally sponsored website you referenced are presented without any bias. The only thing “VERY dangerous” about cannabis is yourblatant ignorance.

  • P

    Patrick MundApr 13, 2014 at 10:58 am


    I respect the fact that you want to challenge the Police discretion on law enforcement, but please first do the research to understand how this festival is put on with the cooperation of police and town. The UMASS Cannabis Reform Coalition meets multiple times every year with police and town officials to discuss the event and what is expect of each other. The every year the police acknowledge the fact the people who attend have to right to peacefully gather and speak on whatever issues they want. However, at the same time it is made clear that all actions in terms of smoking marijuana are still civil infractions and that these actions are examples of civil disobedience.
    Every year police do write multiple citations at the festival however it is made clear that their primary concern with any such event is the safety of the attendees as well as the safety of everyone else in town. Since there has never been any signs of violence breaking out from Extravaganja they have felt that the best way to ensure the safety of everyone is to be present but non-intrusive towards the event. This is why there is such a major difference in the actions of the school, town and police officials between events like the Blowout and Extravaganja. When alcohol is consumed by thousands in one area, violence always breaks out. Town and private property is destroyed, illegal fireworks are set off that could hurt hundreds of people. At Extravaganja every vendor is licensed in what they sell, there are no fireworks, no fights and thus very limited police interference.
    Police’s main job is “to protect and serve”. That is why you see there discrepancies in their actions.

  • V

    Valerie DemerskiApr 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I really wish I had known about this event! While I’m happy that our state has made medical MJ legal, I’ve also been working to educate people about the nutritional benefits of the CBD in hemp as well, which IS legal in all 50 states. Check out the benefits at This would have been a great opportunity to network with my hempvap!

  • L

    Larry KelleyApr 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Extravaganja is not a “town-supported event.” They take out a permit live everyone else does, for use of the town common.

  • I

    Ian HagertyApr 10, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Keith Saunders,

    I very much respect your opinnion and I am sure you are entirely knowledgeable concerning this subject. However, in my article above, I did mention that I thought a key problem was the law being at the discretion of law enforcement officials. I specifically said, “Laws cannot be left up to the interpretation of the police.”

    I am also not arguing about the history of prosecution of marijuana laws or whether weed should be legal or whether is it currently de-facto legal as I already fully understand it to be. My main argument, is that law should not be malleable at the whim of the police and that comparing Blarney Blowout to Extravaganja, when considering strictly legality is completely hypocritical.

    I’d actually like to continue talking to you about this Keith. Thank you.

  • B

    Bob DylanApr 9, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    @SnoopDoggsBrain you are the biggest close-minded idiot i’ve ever heard. just because people have died from driving stoned means it should stay illegal? guess we should ban alcohol again along with prescription drugs too because those cause deaths. If marijuana is regulated like other drugs it won’t become some free for all where everyone and their mother is stoned. come out from he rock that you’re living under and open your eyes. YOU are the only communist pig here.

  • K

    Keith SaundersApr 9, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I will be speaking at Extravaganja on Saturday. I am a sociologist who received his degree from Northeastern University in 2002 for an ethnographic study of the marijuana policy reform movement. I teach at UMass-Lowell. I am past-president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), and I am currently in my second three-year term on the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    Massachusetts law does not require police to enforce misdemeanor or lesser offenses, if such enforcement has the potential to cause disturbance of the peace. Enforcement is at the discretion of police.

    The author’s conclusion is based on an incomplete understanding of how laws are enforced, in the Commonwealth.

    That said, marijuana is de facto legal for personal use and consumption in Massachusetts–especially for white people over the age of 21, who rarely were prosecuted even under the pre-decriminalization policy.

    As for “SnoopDoggsBrain”, that dude has some serious reefer madness going on. The real Snoop, on the other hand, is a smart guy.

  • S

    SnoopDoggsBrainApr 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Ian – you raise important issues concerning the rule of law and selective enforcement. This is not about whether or not you think marijuana is ok. Now, you caved in and stated that you have “nothing negative to say about the human consumption of marijuana.” That’s either uneducated or unwilling to take an unpopular stance in this communist little fantasy enclave we like to call Amherst. Marijuana is VERY dangerous, as the fine morons of CO and WA are finding out. Legalization barely in place, arrests for crimes large and small are already up in both those places, not to mention fatalities related to driving while stoned. And we all know it’s usually not the perpetrator of an accident that pays with his/her life. Do some fact checking. Marijuana is much more powerful than it’s given credit for, which explains why legalization hasn’t occurred. It’s a lot more potent than even just a decade or two ago, never-mind during the 60s for which everyone waxes nostalgic. This stuff has serious consequences as we all know. Can a lot of people handle it recreationally. Yes, they can. But the numbers who cannot are large and increasing. Check out the facts first before you take a stance on marijuana. We’ve all known someone who has paid the ultimate price for their own, or someone else’s, recklessness.