Everything You Missed at the National Cannabis Festival: A Momentous American Weed Culture Explosion

The National Cannabis Festival happened August 28, 2021, and it was a hit in more ways than one.
The National Cannabis Festival happened August 28, 2021, and it was a hit in more ways than one. / Picture by Sean Devaney

On August 28th, 2021, at around 6:45PM, Washington D.C. was sent back to 1995. After an entire day of smokes, jams, and delicious munchies, the National Cannabis Festival welcomed Redman and Method Man onto the stage. The two MC’s brought massive energy to the crowd, which at this point convened at the front of the stage. I stood amongst them, cracking up as everyone cheered when the DJ asked “How many of you showed up to this motherfucker high this morning?”

I attended the National Cannabis Festival from start to end. That final performance by Method Man and Redman was a gargantuan cherry on top of a whole day of exciting new experiences. Upon arriving at the RFK Festival Grounds, I came to realize just how grand of an event this would be. Thousands were in attendance at the festival.

From the food, weed, and culture, all the way to the music, exhibitors, panels, and pavilions, everything about the National Cannabis Festival was an absolute blast. The people in attendance, predominantly from D.C, Maryland, and Virginia, represented a wide spectrum of backgrounds, age groups, and demographics. 

Regardless of different walks of life, everyone treated each other with respect and oftentimes looked after one another. Frankly, I think you’d see more altercations at Sunday church than amongst the blazed denizens of the National Cannabis Festival; and when I use the word “blazed,” I do indeed mean it. 

National Cannabis Festival
GHouse, one of Washington D.C.’s biggest I-71 compliant delivery and pick-up services / Image by Sean Devaney

Exhibitors and I-71 Compliant Cannabis

It seemed like the broad majority of attendees at the National Cannabis Festival were smoking on joints, pipes, or vapes. In D.C, adult-use cannabis is legal, but sale is not, and public use is discouraged. So how exactly did this happen?

What made the festival so dank was the presence of Initiative-71 compliant lifestyle brands. What I-71 basically says is that the sale of recreational marijuana in Washington D.C. is not permitted. However, the gifting of cannabis or transference of it between individuals is allowed. In other words, the weed in a transaction becomes a “bonus” item alongside a primary service or good. The broad majority of exhibitors utilized this to provide patrons with cannabis on-site.

It was remarkable to find myself at a “true” cannabis festival, where people could show off their region’s cannabis products and weed and smoke on it too. I was taken aback by the selection from exhibitors like the Washington Dabbers Club, Black Egyptian DC, and Cannabis Karma, among other stands. Some brands like Nova Hemp offered curious products, for example, their very own Delta-8 Kombucha.

National Cannabis Festival
Camille Tindal (left) and Queen Adesuyi (right) hosting a panel in the Culture Pavilion / Image by Sean Devaney

Pavilions at the National Cannabis Festival Put Spotlights on Cannabis Culture, Criminalization, and Policy

After an hour of browsing bud, extracts, and edibles from the region, as well as from around the country, I sought the more ponderous environment I read and wrote about beforehand. At the Culture Pavilion, sponsored by Curaleaf, I observed talks on reform and progressive campaigns in the cannabis industry. I was hooked by Camille Tindal and Queen Adesuyi’s session, titled “Queers & Cannabis.”

Camille, the Grow Manager of Verano, and Queen, a Policy Manager for National Affairs in the Drug Policy Alliance, spoke in-depth about their experiences in the cannabis industry. Personally, as a rookie from middle-of-nowhere upstate New Jersey, their perspectives in the bustling market of our nation’s capital proved eye-opening for me. They shared experiences that revealed just how valuable and unique an opportunity is presented by the cannabis industry’s inclusive nature.

“Working in the industry was the first time I felt I could be myself as a queer black woman,” Queen told the audience. “Being surrounded by queer people benefitted me greatly.” She and Camille acknowledge how, as a budding and inherently diverse business, cannabis is a comparably less white-male-dominated career path. This may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but being able to connect with and draw inspiration from people who understand you has great power to quench feelings of adversity. Besides, cannabis will have a much faster road to true diversity if it hits the ground like that in the first place.

They spoke a little more on this when someone in the audience asked if there was a good place for LGBTQIA individuals to find a way in. “Just do it,” Queen said. She told us that any cannabis company ought to be a welcoming environment for queer people, and furthermore, that they are much easier to get involved with than many think. “Reach out to dispensaries. Everyone is looking for open-minded people right now.”

Jerk at Nite food truck
Jerk At Nite, a black-owned Jamaican cuisine caterer from Washington D.C. / Image by Sean Devaney

Food, Yoga, and Activities at the National Cannabis Festival

It’s a tragedy; there was simply too much going on at the National Cannabis Festival to fit in one article. At the front, dozens of food vendors joined together to create a delectable “Munchies Bar.” Delicious, fried and grilled foods dotted the plaza, alongside food trucks devoted to Jamaican, Greek, and Southern cuisine from around the district. Jerk At Nite hooked me up with absolutely mouthwatering jerk chicken and rasta bread.

Balanced Veterans Network at National Cannabis Festival
The Balanced Veterans Network’s exhibitor tent hosted within the Veterans Lounge / Photo by Sean Devaney

Not too far off, the Veterans Lounge proved to be friendly, well-shaded, and populated with festival-goers. The National Cannabis Festival showed its commitment to a vital medical community with this veteran-committed outlet. I met Steve Ellmore, the director of the film Unprescribed (2020) and a member of the Balanced Veterans Network. He talked with me a little more about how cannabis can literally save lives when it comes to helping veterans recover after combat. His non-profit organization works to sustain a safe space for patients to meet and learn more about alternative treatments that could get them off of hard medications.

Weed wasn’t the only thing at the National Cannabis Festival, either. Fantom Comics, an online and physical comic book store was showing off the best graphic novels and manga for stoners. Meanwhile, the Mind and Body Movement offered a course for yoga at the Wellness Pavilion. We Go High Inc. drew me in immediately with shirts and merch proudly proclaiming “NO ONE SHOULD BE IN JAIL FOR WEED.” The energy seriously never stopped on Saturday, and everything seemed to accurately reflect the community in attendance, as well as the cannabis culture as a whole.

BackYard Band playing at National Cannabis Festival
BackYard Band tearing it up at the National Cannabis Festival / Photo by Sean Devaney

National Cannabis Festival Concert

We owed it to the festival’s performers for the good vibes during NCF, as music seldom stopped for the entire day. Upon entrance, I could hear “Buffalo Soldier” playing from DJ Farrah Floscett’s booth on the stage. The esteemed DJ continued handpicking stoner classics until Lee, Blackwood, & Graham pulled up.

Unsure of what to expect from this elusive trio, they greeted us with relaxing reggae fusion and a full horn section. Some people claimed their spots in the field early on, basking in the field on blankets and chairs with the scent of bud in the air while the specialists created a saga out of a few jam sessions.

The Archives showed us what it meant to be a deep roots reggae band. Authentic musicianship and soulful ornamentation found the crowd’s approval quickly. Following them was the Brooklyn OG Afrobeat project, Antibalas. I was moved by their ingenious soul, funk, and jazz injections into groovy, living music.

The last three acts were monumental for the National Cannabis Festival. Representing the district was the BackYard Band, a powerful go-go ten-piece project. The go-go sub-genre itself originates from Washington D.C, and refers to hip-hop music with funk and jazz music theory. The BackYard Band simply tore up the stage with a concoction of beautiful vocals, wild verses from MC’s, and incredible versatility from every musician on the stage. I was simply blown away by the city’s own renowned talent.

It was sad to hear that Young M.A wasn’t able to make the show, but seeing Yung Baby Tate was a treat and a half. She and her DJ both had the whole stage to themselves, and Baby Tate took that opportunity to dance and run around while she sang and rapped. Her track “I Am” unleashed the power of the National Cannabis Festival’s subwoofers, shaking the air itself in front of the stage.

Redman and Method Man at the National Cannabis Festival
Redman and Method Man at the National Cannabis Festival / Photo by Sean Devaney

Redman and Method Man Took Over the National Cannabis Festival

 And finally, as 7PM approached the festival, Redman and Method Man took over the rest of the night. What was originally a lounging, leisurely crowd sprung up, cheering and lighting up joints as the two masters got the show started with “1, 2, 1, 2,” off their 1999 banger collab, Blackout!

“Remember the energy that you give to us,” Redman started. “We ‘gon give it back to you!” Method Man finished. Every single track was gangster rap heaven, and the two MC’s nailed every single bar like nails in a coffin. They also elaborated on the difference between an MC and a rapper.

“We come from an era where you have to be CERTIFIED as an MC…” Redman told us as night crept over. “And let’s get the meaning between what the fuck a rapper and an MC is. A rapper…?!” He scoffs. “A rapper could be anyfuckingbody! But an MC moves the crowd… That’s what Redman and Method Man are.”

“We was always for the marijuana culture,” Redman continued further. The next few songs were a trip, as the whole crowd was smoking up a haze in front of the legends. They even did a cover of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” to tribute Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which the entire festival joined in on. The whole time, you could see how the MC’s really did make the crowd move, and connected with them on another level.

I ultimately felt downright fortunate to be at the National Cannabis Festival. I genuinely went in unsure of what to expect, and I spent the entire day grinning and taking in the culture and music. Any stoners, dabbers, or cannabis brands who missed out on NCF 2021 in the east coast area would do well to get their ticket for 2022 as soon as they are up for sale, because D.C.’s magnificent weed expo is a supreme cannabis industry experience that I will never forget.

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