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Marijuana Fest Mix Of Pot, Policy


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AMHERST - The sky was cloudy in Amherst on Saturday and it wasn't just because of overcast skies.

Nearly 2,000 marijuana enthusiasts packed the Amherst Town Common for the 20th annual Extravaganja festival, a pro-pot gathering reminiscent of the sort of free-spirited open-air festivals of the late 1960s and 70s.

Many in attendance were not from the Woodstock generation, but rather twentysomethings taking advantage of what they perceived as a two-day amnesty to smoke marijuana in the heart of downtown Amherst without any legal ramifications - as long as they don't toke over the line.

A handful of Amherst police officers casually kept an eye on things from afar, mainly staying beyond the perimeter of the common.

"It's a peaceful crowd," said a uniformed bicycle cop, standing next to his partner.

When the officers - the only visible police presence at the event - were asked if they were the only authorities working the event, one replied, "We have some people floating around out there."

Amherst Police Chief Scott P. Livingstone said the town agreed to extend the event to two days on a trial basis, and officials will evaluate how things went "based on participant behavior."

Billed as a marijuana-freedom festival, the weekend event, which continues today, was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition and featured dozens of bands, vendors and speakers, many of whom trumpeted the curative and ameliorative powers of pot.

Alex Delegas, president of the coalition, said expanding the one-day festival was an effort to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the event designed to promote the legalization of marijuana.

Participant Niki Snow, a clerk with the Massachusetts Coalition for Cannabis Reform, said her organization supports legislation that allows people to "live their lives as they see fit."

"We are out here to put a face on the issue because we believe in it that strongly," Snow said. "Events like this help people learn more about cannabis and brings the issue out into the open."

Eric Wunderlich, a board member of the Mass. Patient Advocacy Alliance, said that although his group specifically supports legalizing marijuana for medical use, it is important for all factions of the legalization movement to focus on what they have in common.

"At the heart of the issue is the fundamental belief that patients should have access to this option through their doctor and they shouldn't have to live in fear of the authorities kicking in their door and arresting them," Wunderlich said. "There are different beliefs between legalizing it medically and completely, but it is all about not living in fear."

Beth Erviti, 60, of Wendell, embraced what she believes are the positive aspects of marijuana, particularly its medicinal uses.

"I do support legalizing marijuana," said Erviti, who was meeting her daughter and friends at the event.

Erviti said she has driven by Extravaganja many times over the years, but Saturday marked the first time "I've ever stepped foot here."

Springfield resident Joe Minardi said he believes it's time for the United States as a country to use "common sense" toward the issue of marijuana.

"Cannabis has been criminalized for too long and it's time for things to change," he said. "No one's ever died from using cannabis and it is not like other drugs."

A decade ago, residents of Amherst overwhelmingly supported a non-binding referendum calling for state and national officials to lobby for legalizing marijuana, and for town police to relax enforcement of the law.

In November 2008, more than 65 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 2, a binding ballot measure that decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Now, instead of incurring a misdemeanor criminal charge, subjects who are caught with an ounce or less of pot must forfeit the drug and pay a $100 civil fine. Minors also must perform community service and attend drug education and treatment classes.

Massachusetts law enforcement officials, including district attorneys, strongly opposed Question 2, arguing that support for the measure would send a message that pot isn't dangerous. They also said partial decriminalization would be a nightmare to enforce, pointing out that local police departments weren't equipped to implement a new civil fine system.

Massachusetts was the 12th state in the nation to decriminalize possession of relatively small amounts of marijuana.

NewsHawk: MedicalNeed: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: masslive.com
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