A Black Woman Is At The Helm Of The National Cannabis Festival Taking Place In Washington D.C. This Weekend
Credit: Caroline Phillips

The National Cannabis Festival makes its anticipated return to the nation’s capital this weekend and will bring some of music’s favorite acts to the masses, with performances by artists such as Redman, Method Man and Young M.A.

The person responsible for bringing the largest ticketed cannabis festival on the East Coast is none other than a Black woman: Caroline Phillips is the founder and producer of the National Cannabis Festival, which she created to celebrate progress on legalization of marijuana in D.C. and across the nation through live music, art, advocacy and exhibitions. But more importantly, the festival itself is about representation—representation of Black people, Black women in particular—within the cannabis industry after being co-opted by white people.

The annual event, which takes place this year on Saturday, August 28, 2021, at RFK Festival Grounds, has become a hub of cannabis education with more than 20 hours of teachings around advocacy, decriminalization, agriculture/growth, and health and wellness. And it’s attended by local and national leaders, including D.C. elected officials and members of Congress.

“This Saturday is an exciting moment for us,” Phillips tells ESSENCE. “This is our fifth year. We are the only festival of our kind in the world that is owned and run by a team of women of color. That sets us apart in the live events space and in the cannabis events space. You don’t see many women, let alone many Black women or brown women, owning and leading festivals in live music or in the cannabis space. This, for us, is an opportunity to show people that we have been able to fight our way through the pandemic—we’re here, we’ve survived. We’re still here to share the unique narrative of our community.”

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Black-owned cannabis businesses remain rare despite diversity efforts, and the cannabis industry is still incredibly difficult and expensive to enter, particularly if you’re actually growing cannabis.

“What I first saw when legal cannabis arrived in D.C., or at least when medical cannabis arrived, was a total lack of representation of Black and brown people and the total lack of representation of women,” shares Phillips. “And I knew that that wasn’t the right story for cannabis in D.C., so I wanted to make sure that I created a platform that shared how the war on drugs has impacted people in our city.”

Phillips birthed and has grown the festival independently from just an idea in 2015, to hosting her first festival a year later with 5,000 attendees, to today in 2021 selling more than 20,000 tickets—solidifying the NCF as a major music festival and her as an influential event curator and cannabis policy advocate. 

She continues, “I wanted to make sure it was affordable and accessible, and I wanted to make sure that we had a platform that reminds people that while cannabis is legal and everyone is talking about the green rush, there’s still so much work to do on the policy side to repair the damage that’s been done to our communities.”