U.S. Cannabis Events: Purpose, History, and Evolution in 2020

Photos of cannabis events

First, there were no cannabis events. Then came concerts with weed. Now there’s a cannabis event happening almost every day. 

As we know by now, marijuana went through a long journey since humans first started using it. It went from a much-revered plant in certain Asian countries (according to some theories, Bengal got its name after the holy bhang), and a welcome medical aid in much of Europe and Asia, to a suddenly demonized and illegal drug.

Cannabis activists are still trying to clear the plant’s name and remind the world of its glorious past.

20th Century and Cannabis Protestivals

We won’t go into how the plant got a bad rep in the 20th century (but you could look up Harry J. Anslinger, the Narcotics Commissioner who masterminded America’s War on Drugs.) It’s enough to say that from a widely used pharmaceutical drug, cannabis became a forbidden narcotic in 1937. Four years later, it was prohibited from medical use. 

Though powerful and expertly organized, the brief propaganda against cannabis in the 1930s and 1940s couldn’t erase all the volumes of documentation on cannabis from early history to today – those medical reports, explorers’ journals and individuals’ accounts undeniably point to the plant’s beneficial properties.

Hence, soon after they declared marijuana illegal, people started organizing activist groups, advocating for restoring justice to cannabis and its users.

Spontaneously with advocacy groups came cannabis festivals. They played an enormous role in “paving the way for a new acceptance of the drug”. Among the first and most famous were Hash Bash (held in honor of poet John Sinclair arrested in the ‘70s for marijuana possession), and Seattle Hempfest, one of the first to be labeled a “protestival”. 

The first cannabis event organizers had to be brave people who risked jail time for organizing a completely illegal event. The events were rebellious, the participants daring, and many of them did get arrested. 

But with the first instances of marijuana decriminalization in North America, cannabis events became better organized, attracting more visitors and continuing to send the message about the injustice of cannabis prohibition. 

Marijuana Events without Marijuana?

If you had one guess, what would you say was the major trouble with cannabis events? The fact that cannabis couldn’t (and still can’t in many places) be smoked in public. Well, at least not legally.

Even today, festival organizers need to go through a lot of paperwork to acquire permits for cannabis use and selling pot during the festival. Also, since the laws are so confusing, organizers sometimes cancel shows because of a law forbidding the use of weed on site.

Of course, that’s just the paradox of the legal system now allowing weed events where smoking weed isn’t allowed. In practice, no festival has ever been organized without pot finding its place in it. 

8 Best Cannabis Events in the U.S.

We mentioned Hash Bash and Seattle Hempfest. There are a few more cannabis festivals that won their place in the history of best cannabis events.

Boston Freedom Rally

This is the second largest cannabis festival in the U.S., after the Seattle Hempfest. It is also an example of a “marijuana event without marijuana”, because smoking pot in public parks in Boston is forbidden. It was first held in 1989 and it is organized by two large cannabis advocacy organizations, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

National Cannabis Festival

Another legally non-consumption event, the National Cannabis Festival has been gaining popularity as an innovative event that hosts music attractions, industry experts, and various cannabis businesses who exhibit their products there. It is held around April 20 (the weekend on, before, or after) in Washington, D.C.

High Times Cannabis Cup

Cannabis Cup is organized by the reputable, longest running cannabis publication, “High Times”. That’s where strains compete for the title “Best strain of year X” and it’s traditionally a YES-consumption event, but that actually depends on the state where it is held (it is organized in several states in the U.S.).

Weed the People

Weed the People was first organized in 2015 in Portland and was described by the media as “a stoner’s paradise”, largely because visitors were given out free weed to consume during the event. It was held two days after Oregon legalized cannabis. 

The Emerald Cup

A truly 420-friendly event, The Emerald Cup is the place where people can smoke weed (in designated areas), bring in their own weed (one oz of flower or eight grams of concentrates) or buy seeds at the event. Held in Santa Rosa, California, it hosts industry experts, cannabis cultivators, farmers and educators. It hosts an outdoor cannabis competition that is recognized in the whole world.

Mile High 4/20 Festival

A true 420 festival, Mile High has turned into a big cannabis event visited by thousands of people every April 20. It is held in Denver, Colorado. According to their website, their goal is “to continue to fight the stigma while celebrating the booming cannabis industry”. 

8 Virtual, Corona-Proof Cannabis Events in 2020 You Should Check Out

The nature of cannabis events has changed over the decades. The rebellious and wild turned into more organized and commercial. Though most of them still nurture the original idea and purpose of these events – to restore justice to marijuana and those affected by the War on Drugs – a big part of these festivals is to explore opportunities in the cannabis business.

Therefore, instead of a few cannabis festivals per year, today we have more cannabis events than we can keep track of.

And just when we thought this got out of hand, COVID-19 happened.

We’re in 2020 now, the year of the coronavirus, and the year that will be remembered as the turning point in many areas of life, especially travel and public events. 

Luckily, the internet technology had evolved before the deadly virus, so all events that can be held in the virtual space are being held in the virtual space. 

Though it’s impossible to enjoy a music event separated from the dancing crowd, many weed events can still be attended from one’s own home because of their business-oriented nature. 

Other event organizers are hoping that the health threat will go away by the time their conference approaches.

We picked eight, either virtual or “real”, that you should check out this year:

Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition, in October 2020 in NY and Boston

The CBD Expo Tour, November 13-14, California

SecuraCann, October 14-15, VIRTUAL

Lucky Leaf Expo, October 9-10 in Austin, November 20-21 in Houston

HortiCann Light+Tech, October 20-21, VIRTUAL

CannaOne, September, October, November, VIRTUAL

MJBizCon, December 2-4, Las Vegas & VIRTUAL

USA CBD Expo, December 11-13, Chicago

Hopefully, cannabis events will be able to focus only on the business/education/entertainment aspects of this amazing plant in the foreseeable future.

Until then, maybe you can join the ranks of those who are fighting to get its good name back.

About the author
Ana Stanojevic

Senior editor at Greencamp. Graduated Creative Writing at Syracuse University. New to cannabis & pleasantly surprised to discover its many positive effects. Loves books, chocolate, dancing, summer.

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