Extravaganja finds a new home: 29th annual cannabis fest to be held in Holyoke next year

  • Amanda Binette, left, of Hatfield, University of Massachusetts senior Cherise Connolly and Rachel Rioux of Shrewsbury enjoy music by trumpeter Nick Borges and the band Fat Bradley on the “Sun” stage of the Extravaganja marijuana festival held at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton on Saturday, April 20, 2019. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2019 10:56:02 PM

HOLYOKE — Extravaganja, the longtime pro-cannabis celebration and political rally, is going to have a new home next year.

“Extravaganja’s going to be in Holyoke,” said Claire Walsh, president of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition.

The coalition, which sponsors the festival, will present the ​​​29th Extravaganja on April 18, 2020, in and around Heritage Park and Gateway City Arts in downtown Holyoke.

“It’s going to be a community effort this year,” she said.

Although it is still in the permitting phase, Walsh said the event has gotten a positive reception from the city.

“They actually contacted me first,” she said, noting that the coalition has worked directly with the police and health department in Holyoke on the event and that they’ve met with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

“The mayor was very supportive,” she said. “He made himself available to us.”

She said this wasn’t the case in Northampton, where the city put up obstacles, she said: “We faced progressively more restrictions on the event.”

She pointed to the decision this past year to restrict Extravaganja to those 21 and over, unless they were Five College students, in which case the age limit was 18 and over.

Walsh was also critical of Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who she said did not meet with the coalition to discuss the age-limit change.

“He never responded to our calls,” she said.

Walsh also didn’t like that the Three County Fairgrounds, which hosted the Northampton Extravaganjas, required ticketing for this year’s event, she said.

Narkewicz said there were ongoing discussions between city staff and the event organizers and that he hadn’t found it necessary to meet with them.

“I don’t meet with everyone who’s applying for licenses,” he said.

He also said that the city had accepted the coalition’s proposed compromise, which carved out a lower age limit for Five College students. Originally, the carve-out would have applied to UMass Amherst students only.

Narkewicz said that Extravaganja had outgrown Amherst, its original location for the first 24 events, and now it had outgrown Northampton, where it has been held since 2016.

“I wish them well,” he said.

As for the potential loss of economic revenue from the departure of Extravaganja, Narkewicz said, “I’m not concerned about that.”

Ward 3 City Councilor James Nash, who represents the Three County Fairgrounds, said he felt it was a good event and that the restrictions placed on it were reasonable.

Walsh said that in addition to an all-ages section, there will also be a 21-and-over area featuring dispensaries. Although no marijuana will be sold at the event, Walsh said that consumption might be allowed in the latter space. She also said the dispensaries section would serve as a place to connect low-income people and people of color with the industry. She said that the coalition, the city of Holyoke, the organization Nueva Esperanza and other community groups have discussed the creation of a fund to help people in these communities enter the marijuana business.

Among other booths, Extravaganja 2020 will feature one with forms for people to apply to expunge their marijuana convictions and assistance with filling the forms out.

Walsh said that, “The event is trying to improve cannabis laws in Massachusetts,” and that Northampton hadn’t understood that mission, and had wanted to turn it more into a festival than a political rally.

And in terms of working with Holyoke she said, “It’s really exciting to be working with a city that supports our mission.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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