- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2016

Let’s get this out of the way: There won’t be any weed or seeds Saturday at the National Cannabis Festival.

But there will be hip-hop legends De La Soul, local go-go legends Backyard Band and — most important to organizers — scores of activists talking up the benefits of marijuana.

Education is really what it’s all about, according to festival organizer Caroline Phillips.

“We want to make advocacy and access to information very accessible,” Ms. Phillips said. “And we want to grow a network and community of advocates for access to marijuana.”

About 5,000 people are expected to attend the inaugural festival, which will run from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of RFK Stadium, she said. A large pavilion devoted to marijuana education and advocacy will greet ticket-holders upon arrival.

“As soon as they enter the festival, they have to pass that pavilion to get to the concert,” Ms. Phillips said, conceding that the bands may be what brings the crowd. “Maybe you’re not initially interested in advocacy, but then you see it while watching the music.”

Activists and legislators, including D.C. Council member David Grosso, will speak in between musical acts, she said.

For Mr. Grosso, at-large independent, the festival represents a way to show how the District has progressed in marijuana policy while looking to battles ahead.

“My interest in cannabis decriminalization and legalization has always been about social justice and ending the arrests and racial disparity in terms of enforcement,” he said. “We have certainly come a long way just in the last three years with the help of policy advocates, business owners, and enthusiasts. And though there is more to do, the National Cannabis Festival is a great way to celebrate our progress.”

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department said it will have “adequate police presence in that area” during the festival.

Amid the advocates and pro-pot literature, purveyors of hemp products, hydroponic systems and vaporizing devices will display their wares alongside T-shirt sellers and arts and crafts merchants.

“The majority of Americans, including DC residents, favor legalization of marijuana and an end to prohibition — but despite public opinion, levels of arrests for marijuana remain near their all-time peak, with over 700,000 arrests annually,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, a policy analyst at the Drug Policy Alliance who also served on the festival’s steering committee. “Attending the NCF is a fantastic opportunity to raise your voice in opposition to the failed drug war and marijuana prohibition.”

Ms. Phillips said the District was her first and only choice for the festival, not only because she grew up in the city but also because it’s the nexus of local and federal marijuana policy.

The D.C. Council this week voted to permanently ban private marijuana clubs but were generally supportive of the ballot referendum that got marijuana legalized in the District last year. Ms. Phillips said that created a gray area ripe for discussion about the council’s role in marijuana regulation if Congress ever allows it in the District.

“I think what’s happened in D.C. is a side effect of the chaotic thinking around cannabis,” she said. “The council made some amazing gains last year, standing up to Congress, but now they’re acting out of fear. We need to get rid of that gray area.”

The National Cannabis Festival is the perfect place to have a discussion about that gray area and the intricacies of the District’s marijuana laws, she said.

Ms. Boecker agreed, saying the event “is an opportunity to share accurate information and cultivate an open and honest dialogue with the District community about cannabis.”

Although education and advocacy might be the reason for the festival, there is no doubt that some will be coming for the music, which also highlights the national and local aspects of the event.

Long Island hip-hop trio De La Soul, which will headline the event, is known for its progressive music and socially conscious lyrics. Local favorites Backyard Band will fill the penultimate spot as the festival’s ambassadors of go-go.

So far, the city has embraced the event, Ms. Phillips said, with business offering free space and an all-volunteer staff helping run the event.

“We literally had venues open their doors to us for free to host lead-up events,” she said. “Without generosity like that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing this year.”

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