- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2016

The syncopated beats of go-go music cut through air Saturday at the first National Cannabis Festival, mixing with chatter about medical marijuana, legalization efforts and hydroponics along with which strain of marijuana strain will give you the best high.

Held at the grounds outside RFK Stadium, the festival attracted thousands of marijuana activists, criminal justice reform advocates and stoners alike. And though a laid-back, party atmosphere permeated the event, much of the conversation went a lot deeper.

“There’s a lot of knowledge about cannabis here,” said Bobby Porter, who traveled from northern Delaware, where marijuana possession has been decriminalized. “People here have so much insight in some many different areas.”

Mr. Porter said he had talked about everything from the benefits of hemp fibers to how marijuana could be regulated and sold.

“It’s a step forward for cannabis,” said Brian McMinn, who traveled with Mr. Porter from Delaware. “It’s not just about smoking.”

In 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved the recreational use of marijuana, an initiative that took effect as law early last year. Organizers pitched the inaugural pot festival as an education-focused event to increase awareness and encourage reform.

Mr. McMinn said the District’s legalization of marijuana was a victory, especially with the city under congressional scrutiny.

“The states need to step forward,” he said. “We need to bring that to the forefront.”

Some attendees came to the festival to preach the healing properties of cannabis.

“It can really help stabilize some chronic, systemic illnesses,” said Sean Margowski. “The fact that people get arrested for it is ridiculous.”

He noted that some studies over the last 15 years have shown cannabis to help prevent epileptic seizures, decrease anxiety, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and ease pain in multiple sclerosis patients.

“That’s what’s great about being here,” Mr. Margowski said. “You can get into conversations about every aspect of the drug.”

But even though the conversation was free flowing inside the festival, the stigma of the drug remained beyond the event gates, according to Dominic and Sean, two D.C. residents who declined to give their last names.

Dominic said the District’s recent ban on private marijuana-smoking clubs further stigmatizes the drug.

“People need to be allowed to smoke it wisely,” he said. “They need to be able to seek help outside their home.”

Sean said that if people understood the drug and were properly educated about it, they would see it’s a good thing when used responsibly.

“You draw up regulations and help people understand them,” he said. “And you don’t want kids smoking so you make them understand it’s not for them.”

And if the drug were to be sold in the District, it could create jobs and open a new economy of small businesses in the city, Sean added.

As the evening wore on, hip-hop legends De La Soul took the stage, the conversation mellowed and much of the crowd migrated with blankets toward the main stage.

When asked whether it was worth driving more than two hours to attend the festival, Mr. McGinn nodded in affirmation.

“This is the first festival of its kind,” he said. “I definitely don’t regret it.”

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