Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst Select Board will not grant permit to Extravaganja organizers

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

During a meeting of the Amherst Select Board Monday, Interim Town Manager David Ziomek declared that he would not grant a permit allowing the Cannabis Reform Coalition to host its annual Extravaganja Festival on the Amherst Town Common.

After hearing arguments both for and against granting the permit, Ziomek and the board agreed that the event had outgrown its regular venue and would pose traffic problems and safety risks if it were held on the common.

Amherst Chief of Police Scott Livingstone and Amherst Fire Chief W. Tim Nelson spoke to the board about the excessive size of the event in recent years, which Livingstone said had surpassed 6,000 people in 2015. No other event held on the town common is so highly concentrated, they agreed.

“Anyone who has been in town during Extravaganja, especially in the past few years, knows that is has been miserable,” Livingstone said, referring to the highly condensed traffic and lack of necessary parking.

Nelson also voiced concerns that firetrucks and ambulances would not be able to make it through the traffic, were an emergency to occur.

“Most of our calls during the event … come from slips, falls, burns and that type,” Nelson said. “With such a large group, it’s hard to access the common and often, it’s hard to find our patient.”

Even a small disturbance such as someone throwing a smoke bomb “could potentially cause a stampede” where event goers could be trampled, Nelson continued.

Extravaganja, an event celebrating and rallying support for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, was held for the 24th year in 2015. It is regularly organized by the Cannabis Reform Coalition, a student group at the University of Massachusetts and the oldest student-run drug law reform organization in the United States, according to the group’s website.

Although officers from the Cannabis Reform Coalition did not attend the meeting, Terry Franklin of Amherst acted as their liaison and spoke on their behalf. Franklin argued that, contrary to Ziomek’s statements, he did not feel the town was supportive of the event and did not feel the event’s size poses a safety hazard.

“When you’re trying to figure out how to handle public safety at an event like this, a lot of it has to do with attitude,” Franklin said. “Public safety officers can spin a lot of views and statements … I don’t think it’s a complete problem because people aren’t fighting to get on the common.”

Rather, Franklin continued, when the common is full, people will simply stand elsewhere nearby.

The issue of the event’s excessive size was raised before 2015’s Extravaganja, when Livingstone declared it would be the last year he would be willing to supply the event’s organizers with the necessary permit, according to an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Ziomek added that for the past year, and as recently as a few weeks ago, he and Livingstone have had discussions with members of the Cannabis Reform Coalition, preparing them to find another venue such as the Three County Fairgrounds, which is located in Northampton. However, Ziomek expressed disappointment with Extravaganja’s organizers.

“This message that the event has exceeded the carrying capacity … has been sent loud and clear,” he said. “There have been numerous meetings and we’ve seen very little action. I think that’s a reasonable request on the part of the town to these student groups … there’s been months and months when planning could take place.”

Despite these complications, Franklin stated that “as of right now, the Cannabis Reform Coalition is intending to go forward” with Extravaganja.

“People are attempting to find a different place and it may happen,” Franklin said. “But people may also want to use the common, and we’re not taking a definite ‘no.’ It will be taken to court in that case.”

In response, Amherst Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer argued that although the Constitution protects the right to gather, the town is not required to permit vendors, sound systems and other aspects of Extravaganja.
The board also emphasized that the decision to refuse granting a permit is in no way a content-based decision.

“My standard is public safety … that’s my primary concern,” said Connie Kruger, a member of the Amherst Select Board. “I think we are responsible for people to come into town and be safe. In a way, I think this event has become a victim of its own success. It has just gotten too big.”

 

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.

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