Extravaganja celebrated for first time since legalization of marijuana in Mass.

  • The crowd browses a ring of vendor and exhibitor booths along the perimeter of the 26th annual Extravaganja, held for the second year at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Stewart, on tenor sax, and the Montague-based band Community Smokes play a set of mostly original songs during the 26th annual Extravaganja, held for the second year at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    C.J. Edwards, right, of Chicopee and Jon Ortiz of Springfield pass around a "blunt," packed with what they said was a half ounce of marijuana, while they listen to Yookeroo, the final band to perform at the 26th annual Extravaganja at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Visitors to the 26th annual Extravaganja relax on the infield of what used to be the racetrack at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kevin Tringali, right, of Springfield plays in a pick-up game of hacky sack during the 26th annual Extravaganja, held for the second year at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    David "Squid" Gagnon, left, of South Hadley chats with David Sheehan of Medway after a set by his Valley-based group, Llama Lasagne, which was the opening band for the 26th annual Extravaganja at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Parissa Afrand, left, and Candy Angel, both of California, have their photo taken in a large photograph of two cannabis buds during the 26th annual Extravaganja, held at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Visitors to the 26th annual Extravaganja relax on the infield of what used to be the racetrack at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    David Mech of Springfield, aka "Potsquatch", prepares back stage for an appearance at the 26th annual Extravaganja, held for the second year at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 29, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

@hughesmorgan_
Published: 4/29/2017 3:33:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than 15,000 people celebrated cannabis at the 26th annual Extravaganja on Saturday, the first time the event has been held since Massachusetts voted to legalize the weed.

In years past, the event has served as a political rally for the legalization of marijuana. Now, the mission is to destigmatize, normalize and hold the government accountable for the interpretation of the law.

“Even though it is legal in Massachusetts, that does not mean everything is perfect,” said Robin Striar, vice president of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition, which organized the event. “There are medical patients having their cannabis taken away from them in DEA raids, and it’s problematic.”

Bill Downing, an officer of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) of 28 years, echoed concerns over the interpretation and execution of laws around marijuana.

“We are very concerned because it seems like the Legislature wants to roll back many aspects of the law, and maintain prohibition,” Downing said. “We hope the state won’t treat marijuana like it is more dangerous than it is.”

Saturday’s crowd was bigger than the estimated 12,000 from the 2016 event, the first year the event was held at the Three County Fairgrounds.

Striar explained that because the event was hosted by a UMass organization, fairgoers were expected to uphold the university’s non-smoking policy. Some lit up anyway, but this appeared not to be problematic to police or organizers.

Local acts kept the fairgrounds buzzing, including Grateful Dead tribute band Dead Collective, Humble Digs and smaller acts like Crash ‘n’ the Boys and artist-activist musical group The Liberated Waffles. However, the entertainment was not limited to music; UMass groups like the Juggling Troupe and Bellydancers performed at the event as well. 

The event also included information booths, food and over 50 vendors — all with a marijuana-themed flair.

Northampton Detective Brendan McKinney said Sunday there were eight medical transports. Police said the only arrest was of 19-year-old Raekwon Acevedo of Holyoke who was accused of trying to pass a fradulent $100 bill at an event booth.

Several speakers also took the stage, including Dick Evans, a Northampton lawyer and longtime marijuana law reform advocate.

Ending the stigma

Amanda Kerswell, 23, of West Stockbrigde, came to Extravaganja for the third year. She suggested the mood at this year’s event reflected the state’s recent advancement in the legalization of marijuana.

“I think it’s awesome that it’s legal, but we have a little ways to go to end the stigma,” Kerswell said.

She added that despite laws on smoking in public, she noticed that police have never “bothered” people choosing to smoke marijuana at the event, even when it was held on the Amherst Common before state legalization.

“(The police) have always been chill. They don’t give you a problem,” Kerswell said.

Rebecca Fisher, 69, of Amherst said she believes in the value marijuana adds to society, and believes lawmakers are “out of touch.”

“I think (marijuana) adds to society to have an option for people to take their mind somewhere else,” Fisher said. “And I think the legislators are out of touch with the way people feel about cannabis. People want it to be legal, available and accessible.”

Alex Abrams, general manager of Greenfield smoke and vape shop, The Enthusiast, noted that with the event’s increase in size, vendor fees rose from about $200 last year to $450 starting-level. Even with higher fees, Abrams said he was happy to see the success of the event, especially the diverse age range.

“The attitude is great, and there’s lots of new people, you can tell, who are just getting back into cannabis, are really loving seeing what’s new and seeing what they can get, and how much the experience has changed in terms of consumption,” he said.

He noted the wider range of cannabis products available today compared to the 1960s, such as concentrated forms of cannabis and vaporizers, and suggested that older generations may be returning to or being more open about using cannabis with the new “experience.”

“The medical and the health component invites this whole new market, too, that I think, is really bringing people together here,” Abrams added.

“If you look around, at least 90 percent of them are cannabis users,” he said. “This is a large group of people who are lawyers, bankers, the people who work at the desk next to you every day and people who, 20 years ago, were ridiculed as if they were heroin users. Now, they’re liberated.”

As for the mission of Extravaganja — to destigmatize, normalize and advocate for cannabis — Abrams said that there will have to be some compromise with lawmakers.

“Legislators have viable paranoias that need to be listened to,” he said. “In a good compromise, all parties are equally unhappy.”

Jack Suntrup of the Gazette contributed to this report.




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