The Women Behind National Cannabis Festival

The National Cannabis Festival (NCF) isn’t your average cannabis event – or non-cannabis event for that matter. Founded by a woman and produced by a group of women in Washington, D.C., NCF is the “rock the vote” event for the cannabis community, celebrating progress on legalization of marijuana in D.C. and across the nation through live music, art, advocacy and exhibitions.

Not many people know this, but Women Grow played an important role in the NCF story. It was at monthly D.C. Women Grow chapter meetings where bonds that started as friendships blossomed into working partnerships that propelled a group of women down an unlikely path towards a history-making inaugural event.

Laila & Caroline with Eleanor Holmes

Laila & Caroline with Eleanor Holmes

Connect.
When Caroline Phillips walked into her first Women Grow meeting in Summer 2015, she had no idea what to expect. She was attending the meeting to support a friend who was the featured speaker, and to get inspiration for an idea that had been percolating in her head for a few months.

As she left the human rights non-profit where she worked, she wondered whether she’d stand out in her business attire and if putting a fake name on her name tag would be a good idea. Traversing the six blocks from her office to the meeting site, she went back and forth trying to decide between sitting in the front row where her friend would see her, or sliding discreetly in the back where no one would think she was intruding.

Educate.
Laila Makled opened the July 2015 Women Grow meeting by encouraging the women in attendance to network and take advantage of a safe space for creation and idea sharing. It was her second time leading a Women Grow meeting, but already she felt the power and energy generated in the room by women excited to have a place to congregate and learn about the cannabis industry.

Laila’s first encounter with Women Grow was at a conference for her full time job as a political strategy consultant in Washington, D.C. She was familiar with cannabis policy through her work, but it wasn’t until the chance-encounter of observing a Women Grow gathering at the conference that she realized the potential and need for a resource to educate aspiring cannabusiness owners and advocates inside the Beltway.

Inspire.
By the end of the meeting, Laila and Caroline exchanged contact details.

By the following week they were at lunch getting better acquainted.

By the third week they were sharing big ideas and Laila found herself joining a small group of team members supporting a highly unlikely proposal – Caroline was strategizing a large-scale advocacy music festival for the cannabis community.

She was laying the groundwork for the inaugural National Cannabis Festival.

Empower.
In the coming months, Laila and Caroline worked closely with their fellow volunteers, recruiting advocacy organizations and local businesses to endorse the vision for the inaugural event.

Caroline used her experience producing major policy events to build a coalition of supporters for the festival and Laila leveraged contacts through Women Grow to help identify potential vendors and sponsors.

By day, Caroline and Laila worked full-time jobs. At night and on the weekends they huddled with a small group of women (not all of whom can be named in this article because of workplace restrictions), making up the core NCF team. The group of friends acted as sounding boards for one another, lifting each other up on the bad days and providing a vision forward when no path was apparent. By September 2015, the deposit was paid for the RFK Festival Grounds. By January 2016, the festival website was live, Caroline quit her full time job, and the women set their sights on a three month crowd-funding and fundraising marathon to bring NCF from vision to reality.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, the National Cannabis Festival story can be broken down using the mission and values of Women Grow: Connect, Educate, Inspire, Empower. Today, we’d like to add a new term: Achieve.

Achieve.
The inaugural National Cannabis Festival took place on April 23, 2016, welcoming more than 5,000 attendees from 30 states and Washington, D.C.

Eleanor Holmes Norton at the 2016 National Cannabis Festival.

Eleanor Holmes Norton at the 2016 National Cannabis Festival.

Between performers, members of congress addressed the audience from the main stage; in the education pavilion crowds gathered for activist training, an entrepreneur contest, and grow classes; a vibrant vendor fair featured wares from local and national brands; and, a concert headlined by hip-hop legends De La Soul was the capstone to the day.

As the sun dropped behind RFK Stadium, the women knew the festival was a success, but beyond the numbers and data was a bigger victory — they knew that their collective efforts, bolstered by incredible community support, put a big crack in the green walls and glass ceilings facing women in the cannabis and music industries.

The 2nd Annual National Cannabis Festival

The 2nd Annual National Cannabis Festival takes place on April 22, 2017, at the  RFK Stadium Festival Grounds with Talib Kweli and The Pharcyde headlining the Wash Hydro Concert.

If you’re looking for more than music, you can enjoy speeches by members of congress and local government officials on the main stage, classes in the Weed Maps Education Pavilion or just relax in the Chill Zones around the festival grounds.

Join Women Grow chapters from up and down the east coast as we celebrate this woman-owned festival. Get your tickets today at www.nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets and use Promo Code ADVMEM to take 10% off your General Admission ticket order.

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Twitter: @natlcannafest

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