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Inside CannaFest, one of Virginia's first cannabis festivals

Posted at 11:42 AM, Nov 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-15 11:45:25-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – On July 1, the possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis were legalized in Virginia.

In passing this bill, legislators created programs to support social equity in the cannabis business, including loan programs to assist those disenfranchised by cannabis prohibition.

Around this same time, cannabis activist Tony Brown was mulling over the idea of hosting a music festival combined with a bike and car show.

The idea for CannaFest(™) was born.

Brown quickly trademarked the name and got to work searching for a proper venue.

He said he initially was met with "a lot of resistance”

In the beginning, many roadblocks came based on name alone.

Brown reached out to the first venue, an unnamed racetrack, that agreed to host CannaFest until ownership caught wind of the event and forced a cancellation.

Brown eventually applied for permits in three other Virginia cities: Suffolk, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. According to Brown, Norfolk was the most interested, however, the permit process wouldn’t be finished in time for the event. This left the door open for Virginia Beach, who was very welcoming to the idea of the festival, per Brown, and eventually became the host of the September 19 event.

Originally, CannaFest and its events were supposed to spread out over the course of the weekend, beginning Saturday night with the CannaCruise. A private harbor cruise where the consumption of cannabis would be legal under Virginia law. However, this event was canceled by the Coast Guard, due to the Private Yacht “Enuff” not being registered as a Charter vessel.

While the selling of THC products is still prohibited in Virginia, Brown indicated that he intends for the festival to grow in harmony with the law.

“I intend for it to be an annual event and I intend for it to grow as the laws grow,” Brown said.

Vendors were able to showcase a variety of products and services like health and recovery centers, as well as a wide array of CBD and Delta 8 THC products. Delta 8 THC is an alternative to the traditional Delta 9, while still being considered federally legal. Some vendors were surprised the event was allowed to continue, simply due to the fact that it took place in Virginia.

“Coming from LA to here I never thought we’d be at an event like this, but here we are,” vendor Josh Becraft said.

Many were excited and enthusiastic to show off their “budding” businesses.

“Cannafest is actually the biggest event that we’ve been to," vendor William Land said. "This has been an amazing turnout and for us and for a lot of the vendors, they said it was not even as packed as it could’ve been."

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, tickets were capped at 5,000 and an on-site vaccination station was made available to the public.

Many vendors expressed an enthusiasm to return, they hope to grow along with the festival and as laws in Virginia progress.

“Gotta show your support at the beginning so it grows and gets better and better each time,” Schondra Blound said.

Looking to the future, Canna-Fest II is scheduled for April 20 in Norfolk. Click here for more information about Canna-Fest and future events.

By Max Ames(Special to WTVR.com)

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.