The DC National Cannabis Festival is unlike any DC weed event you will ever experience. Each year, thousands of cannabis advocates and enthusiast meet from all walks of life, including lawmaker Senator Chuck Schumer to Hip Hop cannabis advocate Whiz Khalifa.
The National Cannabis Festival (NCF) is the brainchild of Event Strategist Caroline Philips, who in 2016, after the passing of Initiative 71, started the NCF from her living room using all of her savings. The first National Cannabis event in DC had well over 5,000 in attendance, and now in 2023 the event is home to over 25,000 cannabis advocates, business leaders, patients, vendors, and enthusiast!
In this article, we go over what to expect when visiting the DC National Cannabis Festival for the first time, and some of the amazing events, vendors, and pavilions from the 2023 festival.
What to Expect at the NCF
Where: The National Cannabis Festival is held at the RFK stadium grounds. Finding the event is not hard, as you will see thousands of people moving lightheartedly and peacefully towards the stadium. I found it much easier to be dropped off by Uber/Lyft, rather than deal with parking, due to the sheer amount of people in attendance.
Crowd: Executive cofounder Caroline Philips says “one of the things that makes National Cannabis Festival so unique is the wide age range and backgrounds of the people that attend the festival, it’s such a diverse community and so many good vibes”. You’ll find everyone from veterans, business owners, enthusiast, patients, lawmakers, all just there for one reason: to celebrate cannabis and to push for the legalization of cannabis nationwide.
Cost: The 2023 general admission cost will be $65. There is also a VIP membership which includes year round events and a swag box for $425.
Can I Buy Cannabis: The NCF doesn’t sell cannabis, only cannabis branded merchandise. However, if you don’t have a DC medical marijuana card, you can hop into any of the I71 gifting stores to buy recreational weed in DC without a medical card. The only requirement is you are 21 years old.
The National Cannabis Festival host multiple events throughout the week, including:
420 Week - 7 days of cannabis events
While I know most can’t wait for the Festival itself, many people forget about the 420 week in DC that occurs a few days before the festival. DC 420 Week is a week of curated DC cannabis events and parties that lead up to the National Cannabis Festival on April 23rd. All of these events are free and open to the public.
420 week features events such as 420 Food Week where multiple restaurants and food trucks in the DMV offer special deals on all your favorite munchies. You can participate in mushroom cultivation shops, where you can learn to grow medicinal psilocybin and learn about the benefits of ritual plants. While Mushrooms are not legal in DC, the Initiative 81 law makes it the lowest law enforcement priority, allowing residents to safely grow and use shrooms and other ritual plants.
From stand-up comedy shows celebrating cannabis culture, a coffee club for cannabis entrepreneurs and professionals, a 4-20 kick back lounge hosted at the Songbyrd, and even a to a 4.2-mile walk or run through the upper lawns of Meridian Hill Park, 420 week has something for every type of cannabis enthusiast.
Check out our full guide on all the events of 420 Week in DC.
Headlining Performances by Whiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, and Juicy J
One of the leading attractions of the DC Cannabis Festival is the live music performances. The 2023 National Cannabis Festival had amazing performances this year by 2 Chainz, Juicy J, Whiz Khalifa, and Free Nationals.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a DC festival without some go-go music. DC culture also shines brightly as some of the top go-go bands perform as well, such as Backyard Band, Everyday Everybody, and Cumbia Heights. You can either enjoy the music by the stage or just sit with the thousands of attendees just “potted” out in the grass staring up at the skies, vibing out to the music - I know that’s where I found myself randomly talking to people.
The Munchies Zone
Chances are, if you attend the National Cannabis Festival, you are going to get the munchies. The Munchies Zone is a long row of neatly organized food vendors dishing out some of the tastiest snacks and savory foods. No matter your diet, your taste buds will be satisfied with standard, vegetarian, vegan, and even gluten-free options!
The 2023 Cannabis Festival had over 43 food vendors ranging from Capital Chicken and Waffles, Holy Crêpes, Mexicano Square, Ben & Jerry, Funnel Cakes, Seafood, Slutty Vegan, Thai Master Grill, The Tender Rib, and so much more.
Every year I attend the NCF I always find myself starting and ending in the Munchies Zone. It’s one of the first areas you will see when you first enter the festival in the RFK stadium, making it the perfect end to your night when you exit the event as well.
Education Pavilions events
The National Cannabis Festival features six cannabis educational pavilions that you don’t want to miss. The pavilions host a wide range of vendors, contests, classes, events, and invite attendees to participate in discussions on the topics of cannabis wellness, policy, culture, culinary, cultivating, and even psychedelics.
Below are the cannabis education pavilions, each one is definitely worth a check-out, as you will see how much cannabis has influence over our everyday lives from business, cultivation, health, and even law.
Cannabis lifestyle and culture is a pavilion focused on the role cannabis plays in our culture, ranging from business, music, and even fashion. The pavilion includes the “Battle of the Beasts”, how cannabis influenced the sneaker culture, cannabis entrepreneurship best practices for CFO’s for navigating the cannabis tax code 280E, and even Cannatank where cannabis entrepreneurs get a chance to pitch their cannabis business ideas for a chance to win $1,000 in start-up assistance, consultation sessions with industry experts and so much more.
The wellness pavilion includes discussions on alternative therapies with cannabis, specifically for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Balanced Veterans Network focused on cannabis for the treatment of PTSD, insomnia, nausea, and chronic pain.
The Wellness Pavilion allows you to meet with leading medical professionals, dispensary owners, yoga instructors, and holistic medicine practitioners to discuss the medicinal benefits of cannabis. If you are into holistic healing, don’t forget to bring your yoga mat and towel because there will be guided meditations and yoga classes as well.
If you are into cannabis cultivation, then you definitely want to visit the Growers World. The grower’s pavilion has three immersive experiences from a marketplace with all the best cannabis seeds, lighting, and grow equipment in the nation; a cannabis grow school where you can talk to the nation's leading cultivating experts on grow topics from humidity to trichomes; and finally the National Cannabis Championship Pavilion where you get a chance to meet the judges and watch as the nations top breeders battle it out with their cannabis strains and genetics.
If cannabis reform and legalization is right up your alley, you will want to make your way to the Policy pavilion. The pavilion focuses on DC weed law from the state and Federal cannabis reform from social equity programs, legacy operations, and the new Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022.
If you didn’t know, you can find some of the best edibles in DC and the culinary pavilion is where all the top edible makers discuss a wide range of conversations, give out live demos, and contents.
The culinary pavilion has events such as an ice cream eating contest, a class on how to make canna-butter and oil for edibles, and a class discussing the different cannabinoids you can use and the balance of the carcinoids such as THC, CBD, CBN, THCV, and CBG when cooking with cannabis or making edibles.
Congressional Forum on Cannabis Policy on 420
Cannabis legalization in DC would not be what it is without all the non-profits working hard to reform cannabis laws, despite the dreaded Harris Rider bill, which blocks DC from creating a recreational market. On 4-20, the National Cannabis Policy Summit will host a Congressional Forum at the Congressional Auditorium, in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, inviting front line lawmakers to discuss and debate about cannabis reform.
The 2023 Festival will have law making leaders like Senate Chuck Schumer and Senator John Hickenlooper, discussing a wide range of topics such as controlled substances act and marijuana expungements for cannabis convictions.
LGBTQIA, Seniors and Veterans lounges
The 2023 Cannabis Festival will also have a few new installments, including lounges for the LGBTQIA cannabis community where advocates and community members can network and share experiences together.
There is also a Seniors Lounge and Veterans Pavilion hosted by IAVA which provides a private retreat away from the festivities so our veterans and seniors can relax whenever they feel too much stimulation from the primary event.
The DC National Cannabis Festival is much more than a cannabis festival. In the words of the Executive founder Caroline Philips, “First and foremost, we want to celebrate the nonprofit groups that have worked so hard to get us to this point with cannabis legalization. After that, we just want to have a great time”.
Caroline Philips, created the DC Cannabis Festival to be affordable and accessible for the community, but also the primary goal was to join together to face the challenges that do lie ahead for all of us when it comes to cannabis reform at the Federal and State level.
In short, the National Cannabis Festival is a movement and networking to celebrate marijuana and bring about the well deserved reform in laws, and even though the rain made the 2023 event a bit hectic, I’m excited to see what Caroline Philips and her team will be cooking up for the 2024 National Cannabis Festival.