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Extravaganja highlights next steps, celebrates legalization

  • Bernard Kopecky, of Springfield, smokes from a pipe during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • K.P. Owens, 71, of Brookline, shares her views during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chris Gagne, of Springfield, smokes a joint during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joe Passy, of Springfield, shares his views during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The windy day compelled a group of people gather under a blanket to smoke during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A man who goes by Wren, of Wilbraham, holds a bong during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joey Mack, of New Haven, Ct., smokes a reefer during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Potsquatch, who is David Mech, the owner of Potco in Springfield, works the crowd during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People of all ages gather for the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mario Moorehead, of East Windsor, Ct., holds a sativa dominant type CBD plant he bought during the Cannabis Reform Coalition's Extravaganja 2018, Saturday at Three County Fairgrounds.



@mjtidwell781
Sunday, April 22, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — At the 27th annual Extravaganja celebration Saturday, cannabis advocates took time to celebrate legalization in Massachusetts, but said there is still a long way left to go.

Extravaganja, hailed as one of the largest and oldest political rallies in the Northeast, is organized by members of the longest running student drug reform group in the country: the University of Massachusetts Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition.

“This year’s event is about breaking the stigma of thinking legalization has been won,” said Claire Walsh, who will be the president of the coalition next year as a junior at UMass Amherst. “The new law isn’t perfect and we need to make sure that cannabis is accessible to everyone.”

Walsh said a key focus for the 2018 Extravaganja was on education and next steps at the state and federal level. At an education tent set up in the center of the event, people ducked in to hear panels discuss some of those next steps.

“If we allow cannabis to be carried forward by special interests, we will be very disappointed with what we get,” said panelist Kris Burnes, president of Doctor Dirt-Bag, a line of horticultural products specifically formulated for medicinal cannabis cultivation.

KP Owens, a 71-year-old survivor of breast cancer and volunteer with the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, handed out reusable bags, buttons and informational packets under the education tent. She said she came from her home in Brookline to volunteer at the event.

Owens said she hadn’t smoked cannabis for some 25 years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, but she told all 14 of her doctors that she would be using cannabis to get through the cancer and chemotherapy, there was no question about it. She said she used to drive 300 miles from Boston to Vermont to get a medicinal cannabis card.

Now, her hair has started to grow back, but she has one long, long braid left to show what was before the chemo.

“I’m willing to go up against law enforcement to say ‘no, I have the right to do what I want with my own body’,” Owens said. “I’m a two-puffer. I took two puffs this morning, and I’ve been going since 4 a.m.”

A raw wind whipped through the fairgrounds despite the Saturday sunshine, and people huddled under blankets to provide wind protection for the flames of matches, lighters and joints. Vendors lining the edges of the crowd advertised products like subtly-themed cannabis apparel, “BudSuds,” a line of cannabis skin care; and blankets adorned with green leaves, Bob Marley and the number 420.

Pipes and bongs lining vendor tables glittered in the sun as potential customers perused the glassware and asked questions.

A variety of speakers, including Maine gubernatorial candidate Diane Russell and author John Dvorak, interspersed with musical acts like the Deadheads, Sodada, Fool’s Paradise and Jeff the Magician.

Dick Evans, dubbed Mr. Marijuana by the Boston Globe, was the first speaker to address the crowd. A Northampton attorney who helped draft the Massachusetts ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana, Evans said he assists the UMass Amherst coalition with many of their events and said the group has been “remarkable” in leading marijuana reform. Next, he said, the focus needs to be on federal law.

“First they ignored us, then they ridiculed us, then they opposed us, and then we won,” Evans said. “It’s not inconceivable that next year we could be celebrating legalization on the federal level… and it’s something you should write your congressperson about.”

Evans urged the crowd to celebrate the victory in Massachusetts, including the new life, new spirit and new commerce the industry will create, particularly for local farmers.

Joe Passy, owner of the Aurora Insurance Agency in Springfield, said that’s one of the reasons he came to Extravaganja for the third time this year. He said that businesses in the new industry, like growers and hemp farmers, will need insurance by law, but most national insurers won’t offer coverage for the recreational cannabis industry. That leaves it to local insurance agents, he said, many of whom won’t know how to provide that coverage.

“This train has already left the station,” Passy said. “I can’t think of another industry with this kind of a growth rate.”

Passy said he came to network with business owners and potential business owners for a new Massachusetts Cannabis Business Network group he is setting up and added that he is very proud of blue Massachusetts for passing the new recreational laws.

A resident of Ashland, Ryan Rocheford, said he came across the state for the event to take it all in and said he hopes the event will get rid of some of the “stoner stigma” around cannabis.

When people first began to file into the fairgrounds at the start of the event, a group of police officers met by the entrance before dispersing in pairs to stand in visible places, check for blatant law breaking and slowly patrol the crowd. Other officers helped direct traffic and guided event-goers to crosswalks and sidewalks to keep traffic lanes clear. Event-goers could be heard thanking police for their assistance.

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.