With the legalization of cannabis comes cannabis fests, shows, and parties that are meant to be celebrations of the culture. But, like other aspects of the industry, these are often whitewashed and skewed male. For people of color, women, and queer people, the idea of attending a cannabis-themed concert or event can feel daunting, even downright discouraging.
This is where the National Cannabis Festival in Washington, D.C. fits in. Founded by a woman of color, the idea behind the fest is to create a space where all feel welcome and fit in.
“I’ve been producing events in the human rights sector for many years,” explained Founder and Executive Producer Caroline Phillips. “And when legalization of cannabis started arriving in D.C., I noticed a lot of very high-price events in our city. At those events, I didn’t really see people attending that reflected the people in our community. So, I wanted to create an event that was affordable and accessible for everybody in the D.C. region to be able to attend, but also an event that celebrates the work of the nonprofit advocacy groups that have been working so long to get us to this point with legalization. There’s really no better place than D.C. to have that combination of celebration and activism.”
This year, the fest will take place in D.C. at RFK Stadium on 4/20. With headliners Action Bronson and Ludacris on the bill, folks travel from all over to make it to the inclusive and inspirational fest. There is also programming leading up to the big day that focuses on advocacy and activism. While the big-name headliners are a huge draw for many when it comes to the fest, a major focus for the programmers is the aspect of reaching the community.
“This year, we’ve also expanded the program to meet the needs of our attendees who have been wanting more educational content,” she explained. “We added a hemp CBD pavilion that coexists with our growth schools, our policy and culture pavilion, and also our wellness pavilion. We also introduced the veteran’s lounge this year. We’ve given out 200 tickets to veterans interested in attending the festival, and in this lounge, they’ll be able to gather and talk to each other. This is also the second year of our policy summit, which is taking place on April 19 at the Newseum in D.C.”
Attendees of the event can expect to get high and see some good music but also to be educated on policy and the local culture. But Phillips doesn’t think it’s enough that there is one event catered more towards activism. She encourages all cannabis events and people in the industry to take a look at their processes and the people involved in their circles.
“I think you really need to put intention behind creating a diverse space,” she said.
“So, if you don’t have a woman sitting around your board table who feels comfortable and reassured that she can raise her hand and disagree with something without being shunned or potentially pushed out of the room, then you really need to consider the makeup of your board. Or, if you have an event where you look at a panel discussion, and it is all, for instance, men, and maybe all of them of one race, you’re also missing out on helping build this more diverse community, and you’re missing out on potential audience as well.
“I would encourage people, who are in positions to produce large events, to ensure that their speaker list and the kind of exhibitors they have appeal to a wide range of people,” she added. “I know that if I look at an agenda for an event, and I don’t see anybody who’s experience resonates with anything that resonates with me, I’m less likely to attend. I think that it’s important, just like advertising on TV, or really anything else in the marketing world, that we think about the broad and diverse community of people that will be interested in cannabis now and in the future. I think something else that we can do to ensure more diversity in this industry is to start putting women and people of color in decision-making positions. I think that diversity and equity have really become buzzword in cannabis.”
Check out the National Cannabis Festival this year for some great programming and live entertainment, or follow them for more information on advocates and influencers.
Photos courtesy of the National Cannabis Festival