ASCEND at Pittsburgh Cannabis Festival

Last Sunday, Aug. 14, I had the opportunity to represent ASCEND at the second annual Pittsburgh Cannabis Festival. The event was sponsored by Terrapin Care Stations,– a regional farmer and provider of wholesale medical cannabis. According to the event coordinator, Robyn Rhindress, this year’s event saw a spike in vendor, educator, advocate, sponsor, and participant turnout, even as a brand new occurrence. From my own booth, I noted the rows of health & wellness providers, creative artisans, advocates, product dispensaries…and saw I was clearly in good company. Mayor Ed Gainey made an appearance, and ‘Sister’ Mary Jane (the alter ego of activist and PA resident Angela Roshay, who presents as a nun in a full-white habit with a large, green cannabis leaf on her headpiece) camped out to strum her ukulele and sing cannabis-inspired cover songs for the entire festival. 

As a recovered D.A.R.E ‘educator’ I’m amazed to witness this sudden, sweeping pivot in our collective discourse and perception of cannabis use, access, and legislation. Considering the racialized and punitive institutional mismanagement on cannabis to-date, I wasn’t convinced (until it happened) that Pittsburgh would see such a thing in this decade. And while I believe this outcome signals an important move in a better direction, I couldn’t overlook how nearly every party positioned to capitalize on the Pittsburgh Cannabis Festival was white. 

Earlier this year, the Pittsburgh City Paper described Pennsylvania’s cannabis laws as “among the worst in the country…despite record-high levels of public support for legalization and…bigger municipalities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have already passed measures to decriminalize cannabis.” A recent study by the Marijuana Policy Project, found that while cannabis use is the same across racial demographics, Black people in Pennsylvania are nearly four times more likely than white people in our state to be arrested for cannabis use/possession. Conversely, white Pennsylvanians make up more than eighty-five percent of registered medical cannabis card holders. In observing this, I am reminded of the stark differences in who pays full price per infraction, and who gets to freely experience, even profit from the cyclical socialization of crime informing all cannabis legislation. 

So, while I am pleased to see improvements, we clearly have a lot of work to do before Pittsburgh can declare social parity. If you want to support cannabis justice in Pittsburgh and across our region, I urge you to consider making a monetary donation to the Pot Profits for Pennsylvanians (P3)

Thank you Robyn and the entire Pittsburgh Cannabis Festival team, for all of your work and congratulations on a successful second year!