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Mace and Crown | May 22, 2018

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High Stakes: The National Cannabis Festival

T.J. Thompson | Staff Writer

In Virginia, minorities are more likely to be arrested for simple marijuana possession, although their rate of use is close to their white counterparts. In our nation’s capital, legalization of this plant has helped empower minorities.

The National Cannabis Festival was held at the grounds of RFK Stadium in Washington, where advocates and enthusiasts alike gathered to celebrate cannabis and its cultural impact. Festival founder and steering committee chair Caroline Phillips has experienced the effects of ending prohibition.

“We’re very proud of the National Cannabis Festival because it embodies the future for cannabis,” Phillips said. She continued discussing the racial and cultural diversity within the industry.

Phillips addressed the feelings of local and national pride involved in producing an event such as this. She stated that it takes the organizing efforts of the local D.C. community with the support of the entire nation.

Another woman involved in this year’s festival has seen how legal cannabis has empowered people across the nation. Dr. Jill Stein was the 2016 Green Party candidate for president and ran on an open platform of drug policy reform.

Dr. Stein said, “Legal cannabis looks like alcohol or tobacco–a substance which is legal, regulated, taxed and which is also investigated.” Her response then focused on the fact that marijuana is unable to be researched at the federal level due to its status as a Schedule I drug, which means it has no medicinal value and an elevated risk for abuse.

Dr. Stein’s vision is one of small, community-based businesses which empower and enrich those in the local culture. She also views marijuana legalization as an end to the disenfranchisement of those who become convicted felons for possession of marijuana.

“Attempts to corporatize this industry–that means the powerful become more powerful,” said Stein. These powerful people attempting to commandeer the marijuana industry are white males, who are very wealthy from the beginning. She stated we need to empower more minorities to be involved.

One black male helping to empower minorities in marijuana is hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, who headlined the music portion of the festival this year. Kweli rose to fame in the late ‘90s as half of the rap duo, Black Star. Kweli is known for his socially conscious lyrics uplifting his community and fans.

“I don’t think you should criminalize vices or how people self-heal,” Kweli said on the topic of legalization and empowerment. “Our dishonesty, racism and prison industry are finely tuned. It has to do with all of these things that keep rich and powerful men, mostly white men, in power.”

Kweli views marijuana decriminalization and legalization as opportunities to empower oppressed communities. In his eyes, this is a path to freedom in the war on drugs which has afflicted communities of color.

While music was a major highlight of the festival, there were also other areas celebrated in the marijuana movement. Vendors sold marijuana-related goods and there were booths and lectures from advocates and other influential people within the cannabis industry.

Rain threatened to dampen spirits at the National Cannabis Festival, yet all in attendance rallied through this wet and balmy day. At the conclusion, it was a peaceful and empowered vibe, a sense of euphoria, as is associated with cannabis.