It’s been five days since I attended the 3rd annual National Cannabis Festival (NCF) held in Washington, D.C., and I’m still on a high.
The festival was a stoner’s paradise. People played rounds of chess on a giant board as their audience watched, and rolled, and puffed, and passed. The concert featured performances from D.C. go-go legends, Backyard Band, and West Coast rap royalty, Cypress Hill.
There was a Munchies Zone, where you could find all of the sweet and salty foods your high ass desired. And, in the center of it all, was a tent that was enclosed on all sides. People emerged from it, grinning and coughing, in a cloud of smoke.
Everything about the festival just felt good.
We’ve come a long way because weed was considered the “gateway drug” to harder substances, and to being a meandering, red-eyed bum until a few years ago.
Today, cannabis is linked to positive results for people suffering from cancer, chronic pain and opioid addiction, epilepsy, and more. Additionally, according to BDS Analytics, an organization that tracks the cannabis industry, legal weed sales accounted for nearly $9 billion in revenue in 2017. By 2021, BDS Analytics projects that consumer spending on legal weed will reach $20.8 billion, will result in $39.6 billion in overall economic impact, and will create 414,000 jobs.
For this industry to succeed, it is imperative that we address the looming shadow of injustice that still creates significant barriers to legal business opportunities for people of color. –Caroline Phillips
Cannabis culture is driving an economic boom that is making evolutions away from marijuana prohibition easier. In 2011, for example, former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was “unalterably opposed” to the concept.
But earlier this month, Boehner tweeted,”I’m joining the board of “Acreage Holdings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved.” Now that Boehner has a personal stake in the multibillion dollar legal weed industry, his opposition to legal weed has indeed been altered – and therein lies the rub of the cannabis liberation movement.
During Boehner’s tenure in Congress, his complicity in obstructing improvements to cannabis policy led to Black and Brown folks being jailed for doing exactly what he’s doing now – making money off of weed.
I wanted to know how advocacy organizations like NCF were handling the changes around cannabis. Following the most successful event yet, Caroline Phillips, NCF’s founder – a woman of color – was gracious enough to provide some insight.
SOULE: Why should women and woc in particular consider investing?
CP: From attorneys and chefs to doctors and marketing executives, this is an industry that has the potential to engage and absorb a wide variety of expertise. For women of color, the opportunity is one that we cannot afford to miss. This entire industry has been built on the backs of Black and Brown faces – some of which are still languishing in jail – who have been persecuted for touching a plant their white peers can now make millions from. This is about more than a business opportunity – it’s about breaking a cycle of injustice and forcing conversations about diversity and equity when needed.
SOULE: Speaking of Black and brown faces still languishing in jail, what is the cannabis industry doing to address these disparities, even in places where the prohibition on cannabis has been lifted?
CP: The cannabis industry is starting to wake up to acknowledge disparities in marijuana criminalization between Black and Brown communities, and we are just starting to see that trickle-down impact on state level policies. In states like Massachusetts and Maryland, women like Shaleen Title and Delegate Cheryl Glenn are deeply involved in making sure that cannabis regulations and policies in their respective states include diversity clauses and community reinvestment requirements. Recently in Oakland, the city council decided to expunge the records of folks with prior cannabis convictions. That’s really impactful and it gives me a lot of hope.
SOULE: Now that you’ve just completed the third successful event, what are you most proud of since the first one in 2015?
CP: After four long, hard and incredibly rewarding years, I’m most proud of the team that we’ve built around National Cannabis Festival. …NCF is the only woman of color owned and run event of its kind in the United States and we do not take for granted the unlikely (perhaps even miraculous) path we took to get to where we are today, with a successful year 3 on the books and endless opportunities to further impact the education and conversation around cannabis policy.
SOULE: What does complete success in the marijuana liberation movement look like? What challenges remain?
CP: Complete success in the cannabis liberation movement involves patients having open access to medicine without fear of judgement, business owners being treated with respect and fairness, and most importantly, the full expungement of past cannabis convictions for folks who’ve had opportunities denied and life trajectories ruined by their interaction with this plant. For this industry to succeed, it is imperative that we address the looming shadow of injustice that still creates significant barriers to legal business opportunities for people of color.
With women like Phillips at the helm, cannabis culture is headed in the right direction. To do your part in affecting change in cannabis legislation and convictions in your state, read up on your local congress people and make fully informed decisions at the polls. To learn more about the National Cannabis Convention visit nationalcannabisfestival.com.
Cover photo Monique Alicia Gamble Photography