In a week that’s jam packed with activities for the cannabis community, the 2nd annual National Cannabis Festival stands out as different approach to the 420 holiday. The NCF, on the Festival Grounds at RFK Stadium in DC, is an immersive, full-day experience celebrating the scope of DC’s cannabis culture. The 2017 lineup features concerts, speakers, educational opportunities, and local vendors. While the Festival seeks to entertain and to educate, its mission is rooted in the activism that has thrust this movement forward.
Access, opportunity, and community
Born of a desire to build community and empower people of color within the District’s burgeoning cannabis industry, NCF is the brainchild of human rights advocate Caroline Phillips. The idea originated right around the time that Initiative 71 became law and legalized adult cannabis consumption and homegrow in the District. “I was coordinating the conference portion of an event for Comfy Tree,” Phillips describes. “And, at some point, I looked around the room and I noticed there were very few people of color there. I knew activists worked hard to get voter support in Wards 7 and 8. So why weren’t these people gaining access to business opportunities, educational resources, information about how to grow at home?”
Phillips saw the National Cannabis Festival as a way to both engage and empower people of color and strengthen and unify DC’s cannabis community. She leveraged her background in advocacy and coalition-building to bring together some of the driving forces in DC cannabis such as Laila Makled of DC Women Grow, Michelle Rutter of the National Cannabis Industry Association, and Vanessa West of Metropolitan Wellness Center. Not only did these folks contribute their time and energy to the cause, but they also gave the project the credibility it needed to succeed in its inaugural year.
Growing from success
Now the NCF is back for round two, with live music, dynamic speakers, and a focus on activism that has differentiated this event from ones like it. Phillips and company could learn and grow from the positive experience they had with their initial event, which allowed them to increase their programming to include: a Growers’ Pavilion, expanded activities including a Game Zone, more lounge space, and a water station for refilling reusable bottles to decrease waste. Of their efforts, Phillips says: “We’re firming up our commitment to keeping our community safe. We want to be a catalyst for responsible cannabis use in DC and help explain DC law. We want to host a space that is safe and respectful, and a place where people can grow together and meet each other.”
The District is certainly a hub for both cannabis consumers and change makers. Their proximity to the federal government and their “grey area” cannabis laws (it’s legal to consume, grow, and give away, but it’s illegal to sell or trade for cannabis) contribute to an activist mentality. Phillips hopes the National Cannabis Festival can harness this energy for years to come. She tells us, “This event cannot survive without the support of our local community and nonprofit groups, so as long as the community wants it and the nonprofits feel like it benefits their work, we will have it. The first year we were just happy for it to happen, the second year we’re proving it’s not a fluke, and, in the third year, it will become a tradition.”
The spirit of activism, liberty, and justice
If you want to rock out to Talib Kweli and The Pharcyde; hear from speakers including Dr. Jill Stein and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); check out some of the up and coming cannabis entrepreneurs at the CannaTank; or visit the Educational Pavillion to learn from some of cannabis’ brightest minds, the National Cannabis Festival is the place to be. According to Phillips, you can expect a “unique experience, in the spirit of activism, liberty, and justice that has driven cannabis for decades. It’s an event that is extraordinarily diverse, peaceful, and respectful, and that’s what we’re most proud of.” Get your tickets here. And be sure to say high to Splimm’s Kevin Cranford on the Next Generation of Leaders panel!