It’s been nearly a year since Virginia ended cannabis prohibition, and in that time the state has seen no shortage of events celebrating the heretofore illicit flower. From grower groups that meet after hours in nurseries and hydroponics shops to swap seeds and discuss the nuances of cultivation to extralegal popup markets where vendors display their wares in illuminated jars, the Commonwealth seems to have come out of the cannabis closet. And lord, do we love our weed.
While these meetups and commercial events signal a shift in attitude toward cannabis, there’s still a fair stretch of road between here and the type of cultural exaltation received by beer and wine, which enjoy state-sponsored tourism initiatives and ubiquitous accessibility. Maybe part of that road is called Osborne Turnpike. Maybe it takes you to Hadad’s Lake.
Greg Powers and Josh Fitzhugh certainly hope so. Organizers behind the inaugural Virginia CannaBlossom Festival on July 9th, the pair have leapt feet first into the chlorine blue waters of event planning, nurturing a completely grassroots effort into what might possibly become the biggest smokeout in Richmond history.
The festival combines a cannabis cup (cultivators’ competition offering over $5000 in prizes) with a pool party in Hadad’s massive sandy bottom swimming hole, Party Liberation Foundation (PLF) DJ’s and performance artists, and a full lineup of educational speakers, workshops, and panel discussions. True to a Hadad’s Lake tradition going back to the infamous Best Friends Day parties, they’re now announcing that No BS! Brass Band will be rounding out the bill.
“Greg and I have slightly different visions. They connect, but mine is that other states have messed up, and they’ve let it go really, really corporate,” says Fitzhugh, sole proprietor of Richmond Hydroponics — Virginia’s first cannabis-specific fertilizer company. “And Virginia is there. Everyone is out of state. GLeaf. Columbia Care. They’re not in Virginia. Why are they controlling our weed? So by doing the cup, we can find the best Virginia grower, and we can highlight them. And we can potentially point them in a direction to being a lead grower somewhere, and say, ‘Hey, this is the best grower in Virginia. They should be respected. And they should be respected in a legal sense.’”
Being respected in a legal sense is a core organizing principle for Fitzhugh and Powers, who also hope to erode the stale stigma lingering around cannabis use. They are emphatic about setting themselves apart from the nightly pop-ups scattered across the state; there will be no bud for sale at Virginia CannaBlossom Festival. This stance serves not only to legitimize the event from a legal standpoint, but also underscores their prioritization of community over commercial competition.
“I like to think of it as [finding] the guy with the green thumbs,” says Powers. “It took me a long time to figure out what my mission statement was. And it just kind of arrived one day in an instagram post. How do you fit big ideas into six words? Or ten words? And it was: ‘Make fun stuff to do. Find the best herbs. Elevate Virginia.’”
Powers first dreamed up the event around the time of legalization. A lifelong cultivator and avid breeder known to local growers as Hippogator, Powers has given out over 200,000 seeds since July 1, 2021 under the banner of his breeding program, Stable Genetix.
“Part of my reasoning for having this cannabis cup was not this idea of puffing the chest, and I’m better than you are, or whatever,” Powers says. “It’s to find the person who can grow better than me. And to highlight them. And the prize money is to give them a boost. To lift them up to the next level. A lot of times I imagine, or desire, I want my role to be helping people go from the cottage industry to the real deal. To get the license.”
Originally known as the Commonwealth Cup, the event was rebranded following a restructuring of the planning board. In the time since, it has attracted a dedicated team of volunteers, media sponsors including RVA Magazine, Richmond Times Dispatch, and Virginia Video Network, as well as sponsorships from Sneed’s Nursery, Homegrown VA, and Laser Engraving Pros. But it’s still a far cry from a corporate event.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize it’s grassroots,” says Fitzhugh. “There are sponsors. Some people think it’s big business, or some big business backing it. No. Right now it’s just two guys. Two guys and a few friends taking the liability for the whole thing.”
And that’s a monster undertaking for two people who have never thrown an event before. Enter the Party Liberation Foundation (PLF). A nonprofit arts group comprised of DJs and firespinners, burlesque dancers and aerial artists, the Richmond-based organization has been throwing parties everywhere from Gallery5 to Burning Man (and more than a few warehouses between) since 2008. They’re heading up the entertainment for the inevitable dance party in the lake, as well as the air-conditioned VIP lounge.
For the more intellectually motivated enthusiast, a diverse roster of speakers includes talks from Dawn Stancliff of the US Pain Foundation, healthcare advocate Roylin McWilliams, Temera Netzel of Cruel Consequences, Commonwealth Canna owner Mark Tavares, and panel discussions by Decriminalize Nature and the Virginia Cannabis Education Association (VCEA).
For Powers, educating the public about the legacy of cannabis in Virginia is just as important as celebrating the flower itself. And he sees the event as a way of honoring the cultivators who have been risking their freedom for decades to keep their craft alive and a roof over their heads.
“For me, there’s this big missing chunk of history,” Powers says. “It seems like all of this event, or the majority of it, is new growers, and new laws, and new people and faces. New friendships and all that. And it’s missing this part of honoring those that went before us. That were always growing the plant and always supporting the market. The people that were putting bread on their table with the plant the whole time. How do we thank them? I don’t know.”
Maybe working to ensure future generations don’t have to make the same sacrifices as those of the past is a valid form of honoring those sacrifices. Maybe furthering the public discourse on cannabis can help dismantle some of the lies and distortions that keep people behind bars to this day over a plant that has evolved alongside humanity for 50,000 years. Maybe humans celebrating that relationship with each other is at least some small part of the evolution that needs to happen.
“I hope we can point Virginia where it needs to be pointed,” Fitzhugh says. “I hope we can bend the culture to look at cannabis in the same way it looks at wine and beer. There are festivals to celebrate these things… So I think I would like to be part of the cultural shift in Virginia. And I’d like to see people who aren’t even smokers come out, just have a good time. Maybe smoke for the first time. Maybe not.”
“My biggest hope is that it’s fun, and it happens again next year,” says Powers. “Higher Education is bringing a 20 feet wide, 60 feet long blowup human grinder. It’s like an inflatable obstacle course. She was saying that in her mind, it’s like a giant weed grinder, but you put in hippies and they come out the other end all stoned.”
If that sounds a little too crunchy for you, there’s also laser weed. “Our laser guy has a laser cutting machine that he’s going to modify to burn cannabis,” says Fitzhugh. “And he’s going to have small metal straws for people, and you’re going to suck out of the metal straw, the laser weed. So if we can’t have glass, we’re gonna have lasers.”
Powers pounds the table. “NO GLASS! And get somebody else to drive you. Like Uber. Because parking is limited, and nobody wants a ticket for DUI.”
The Viginia CannaBlossom Festival takes place from 12pm to 8pm on July 9th at Hadad’s Lake, 15 minutes east of downtown Richmond. Event invites and VIP passes are available at cbfest.com
Top Image by Darrin Higgins.