A noon sun approaches apex on a cloudless afternoon 3 days post four twenty; Saturday. A mist has formed in the shadow of the once great RFK Stadium. If this asphalt could talk, it would tell tales of downtrodden footsteps, spilled lager, and tears. Today the grounds would report little fatigue for the patrons of the National Cannabis Festival gathered but never set foot on Lot 8. Gravity was an option often ignored between each ceremonial pass. The people could fly.
After receiving proper credentials and searched for anti-floatation devices, a surge of humanity was herded by a soon-to-be common sound of an emergency vehicle. As a result of this quick madness, I found myself in line. A line, I assumed, to be the second form of entry. My ignorance illuminated when a flag waiving “ATM” slowly appeared in sight. I abandoned this line and the mentality of commercialism. A mistake.
Marketed as an all-day Concert, Exhibitor Fair, Munchies Zone, Education Pavilion, and Advocacy Village, the main attraction at the National Cannabis Festival was not legendary Ghostface Killah or iconic co-sponsor Wiz Khalifa. Measured by the occupation of land, length of lines, the strength of activation, total amplified noise, or any other observable measures, the focus of the festival is gifting. Official and unofficial exhibitors behaved more like open market merchants, flooding the festival with constantly competitive prices, ever-changing marketing tactics, and aggressive sales pitches intensifying with sun fall. A mass receipt reflective of every patron’s purchase would read like a classified ad for bargain services and bulk products. $60/hr messages. Replica exotic gems. Overpriced sale fronts.
With activities like carnival games, new cultivation technology, rolling competitions, flower judging, and a professional wrestling ring, as the young folks would say, it’s giving state fair. An exchange of thrills for cash. The façade of celebration is slowly chipped away by the lack of advertised free water, long lines, limited seating, constant emergencies, and a bombardment of products. The National Cannabis Festival’s music, education, and advocacy foundations are now used to sell merchandise. Sources producing the festival tell me the total price tag for this year is nearly ¾ million dollars. As DMV-based artist Joe “Jeaux Smeaux” Wilson stated after leaving the NCF stage, “we just went on tour and only made money from merchandising.” Capitalism stains even the purest intentions.
Spontaneous conversations while standing in the 45-minute, conjoined lines for the second entrance; the ATM blare over the sincerity of the formal dialogue. Rare moments, fueled with genuine enthusiasm for the 5th repeat of “Mary Jane,” in a 3rd genre are interrupted by the spectacle of failed pitches to visit booth #43. Strategically placed chairs create an illusion of participation in education and advocacy pavilions, but most disengage by the time they finish their jumbo shrimp baskets.
The National Cannabis Festival straddles a nationally recognized phenomenon and a local, highly regarded, annual event. In my time in DC, there are 2 characteristics that generational Washingtonians respect, sincerity and consistency. Saturday’s festival treats those characteristics and their bestowers as inclusionary checkpoints rather than partners in success. If the NCF is not careful, they will isolate the local community trying to grasp national attention. State Fairs do not work that way. Simply put, cooking with seasoning tastes differently than seasoning after cooking. I recognize that the nuance of this complaint is exaggerated by its implication but consider these examples.
- Local food trucks lined the back of the festival while nationally branded or NCF vended food had strategic seating, larger cook areas, and faster service closer to the center of the festival.
- I-71 shops from DC are accustomed to an exclusive cash business but when the rules are relaxed during this festival, these same shops are out-operated by businesses from places where i-71 could only be a highway designation.
- While advocacy programs like, “Free the Weedman,” created viral merchandise, my weed man snuck in through secret passages, artist entourage, or pure hookup. If it means anything, “DC” stitched fitteds donned the crowns of groundskeepers; almost uniformly.
The sun has begun to retreat, and the laws of gravity are fighting for my attention. I have consumed forty-five dollars in $5 water, six wings, 7 jumbo shrimp, a piece of my homie’s funnel cake, three pre-prepared gifts, hundreds of sales attempts and a paper cut from the fliers stuffed in my pocket next to my wallet. I’m fatigued by consumption but starved for nourishment. My stomach tosses bottled water, but I remain dehydrated. My first purchases after the festival are 3 lemonades and a meal from my favorite restaurant. I needed taste.