Cannabis smokers often contend with a reputation for wanting to spend their leisure time in dark, solitary, indoor settings. And while spending an afternoon inside with Netflix and a bowl of Blue Dream and its effects is an appealing option for many, getting out and embracing a mutual love of cannabis can be even more rewarding. Beer enthusiasts have had rowdy, music-filled celebrations like Oktoberfest for centuries; it’s only fitting that cannabis should also be celebrated and shared. From professional, entrepreneur-focused conventions to purely hedonistic celebrations, here’s a rundown of some of the best cannabis festivals worldwide.
Maybe the most well-known cannabis festival, the Cannabis Cup was founded in 1988 by long-running publication High Times. Although the flagship event is held each November in Amsterdam, in 2010, the magazine began hosting offshoot events throughout the U.S. to seize on the newly legal market. Although each Cannabis Cup has side attractions like edibles classes and live music, the highlight is the competition, in which different strains and products compete for an ever-expanding range of categories, as basic as “Best Indica” and as specialized as “Best Non-Edible Medically-Infused Product.” By virtue of High Times being one of the oldest cannabis media outlets, winning first place in the Cup provide a serious boost for an individual strain and its growers.
Hosted in Israel, a hotspot for medical and other scientific cannabis research, Cannatech is a conference focused on tech solutions for all different kinds of problems in the world of cannabis. Since THC was discovered here in 1964, the Israeli government has increasingly focused on establishing the country as a beacon for cannabis research for scientists worldwide. With the blessing of Israel’s Ministry of Health, Cannatech has the clout to attract top scientists and innovators who have showcased findings and innovations related to topics growing technology, seed genetics, and even dose-specific methods of ingestion.
Hempfest began in 1991 as an annual summer gathering to advocate for decriminalization of cannabis in Washington state. As turnout grew, attendees became more and more brazen about smoking in public; fortunately, however, local law enforcement adopted a permissive, mutually respectful attitude and tended not to enforce crackdowns. In recent years, Hempfest has attracted notable advocates and supporters like travel guru Rick Steves and 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Beyond politics, the festival also has live music from niche funk and jam bands like Fishbone and Pato Benton. When cannabis was legalized in Washington in 2013, the city set another example for police/community relations, as officers attended the festival handing out Doritos with the state’s new cannabis regulations printed on the bags.
Czechs have a reputation as some of Europe’s most avid smokers: a 2014 European Union study found that almost one third of all adults in the Czech Republic had tried cannabis at least once. No surprise, then, that out of the continent’s most popular cannabis festivals in held in Prague. Cannafest Prague attracts 25,000 global visitors every year and its fairgrounds play host to trade shows for producers of cannabis products and gadgets. Conferences at the festival also provide some legal advice on the idiosyncrasies of the marketplace for small cannabis business owners. For the more casual attendee, Cannafest provides plenty of creative outlets as well, like reading nooks and film screening rooms. Although recreational cannabis is still illegal in the Czech republic, law enforcement is generally very tolerant of low-key, respectful use, at the festival, and otherwise throughout the city.
A localized alternative to the ubiquitous Cannabis Cup, Amsterdam’s Unity Cup is a festival celebrating some of the Netherlands’ top bud. The Unity Cup was founded as recently as 2015 in response to High Times’ cancellation of their Amsterdam Cup. For the last two years, the Unity Cup has focused on showing off strains sourced from the city’s many popular coffee shops: last year’s winners included Tangie, and a phenotype of Mango Kush bud that clocked in at 19.6% THC. The Unity Cup is also unique in that attendees serve as judges — when buying tickets, festival go-ers are also entitled to buy a judge pass. Held in Amsterdam’s dynamic warehouse convention space Melkweg, the Unity Cup features DJs playing electronica well after the judging is over.
The Midwest isn’t often thought of as a center of cannabis culture — one exception to that assumption is the Great Midwest Harvest Festival. Held in the decidedly college town of Madison, WI, the Harvest Festival has run every year since 1970. It’s timed for mid-autumn and provides a venue for vendors, speakers, and activists — like representatives of the Wisconsin chapter of NORML — to network for policy reform. Despite the fact that the festival’s live bands have trippy names like Flowpoetry and Natty Nation, recreational cannabis is still illegal in Wisconsin, so you won’t actually be able to toke on the premises.
New York City knows how to throw a parade — its Thanksgiving Day and St. Patrick’s Day processions are part of the city’s lore. It possibly only a matter of time, then, before NYC began to host a parade celebrating cannabis. Although there’s no clear consensus on how and when the NYC Cannabis Parade began, it has been conspicuously running for the past several years in mid- to downtown Manhattan. Sponsored by Amsterdam-based seed company Sensi, the event has decidedly political goals and in past years has featured speakers like city council members, former law enforcement professionals, NORML representatives, and entertainers like rapper and producer Redman. Although cannabis is still illegal in New York State, New York City decriminalized possession of less than 25 grams for personal use in November 2014. Police patrolling the parade in May 2014 appear to have been lax even before this decriminalization was implemented, declining to arrest attendees who were openly smoking in public.