Washington DC’s underground pop-up art show returned this year, hosted at The Howard Theatre, featuring over 100 local artists, all-you-can-eat pancakes, live audio performances from local DJs and producers, live body painting and more. Photos: Mike Kim Photography
When I arrived at college, the hot rumor was that drinking alcohol through a straw was the fast-track to getting trashed. My crew worked through boxes of straws to learn firsthand it was just an urban myth.
College drinking memories hit me recently when the District announced it would be the second major U.S. city to ban straws, effective January 2019. Establishments caught handing out contraband will get warnings until this summer, when fines come into effect.
Even though I almost never use straws anymore, I was weirdly indignant: the nanny state is telling us how to consume our beverages! But headlines were misleading. DC can use all the straws it wants – just as long as they’re not single-use plastic straws. And as it turns out, the shift to sustainable materials was already well underway.
“We try to be environmentally conscious in everything we do at Tiki TNT,” says Todd Thrasher, owner of the popular new rum bar at The Wharf. “I never even considered supplying plastic straws, ban or no ban. We already have a variety of alternative straw options from plant-based to paper.”
And in his expert opinion as a master of slow-drinking tiki cocktails: “I don’t find that the straw compromises the flavor profile of the drink.”
DC spots have been actively “greening” their bar programs for years, and plastic straws have been an easy target. Hank’s Cocktail Bar stopped providing them – unless specifically requested – years ago. Shaw’s hip, subterranean cocktail bar 600t features reusable metal straws. Founding Farmers, which prides itself on being aggressively eco-friendly, long used compostable straws before switching to paper in 2017.
Buffalo & Bergen, the popular cocktail counter and soda fountain in Union Market, favors corn-based straws – though “many of our cocktails are designed to be served without a straw,” says owner and mixologist Gina Chersevani. “We make a dedicated effort to reduce and reuse.”
So it comes as no surprise that when Founding Farmers co-owner Dan Simons launched a campaign in early 2018 to formally do away with single-use plastic straws in DC’s hospitality industry, he found a groundswell of support. The Our Last Straw coalition incorporated as a nonprofit organization and rapidly picked up over 200 partners in bars, restaurants, hotels and nonprofits across the greater DC area.
The campaign picked up even more momentum last April when the Alice Ferguson Foundation snagged nearly 10,000 plastic straws during cleanup events along the Potomac River Watershed. Mayor Bowser’s office officially announced its support that same month, and in October, the city updated existing food service regulations to ban plastic straws (single-use foam products were banned in 2016). Maybe, some suggest, it’s time to start banning all single-use plastics.
Every year, nearly nine tons of plastic pollution float into the oceans, and experts estimate that by 2050, plastic trash will outweigh fish. This is bad news not just for fish, but also for humans: these plastics break into ever-smaller pieces until they slide into the food chain. Microplastics have been found in fish flesh, sea salt and even beer – and now in your stomach.
Though the world’s few million plastic straws are a minuscule part of the billions of plastics floating in the world’s oceans, some see the ban as another small step in a process of gradual change. Simons has suggested that a Last Plastic Fork initiative could be a reality in the near future. But he also notes that solutions to plastic pollution take time and cannot be only the product of top-down government action.
One enforcement question facing the District revolves around bubble tea, which requires sturdy, oversized straws. There are no environmentally friendly disposable alternatives available at present, and aggressive enforcement will harm at least a dozen small, often minority-owned businesses in the District.
“The challenge in finding a truly enviro-friendly straw that works for boba [bubble] tea is a perfect example of why I was inspired to start Our Last Straw,” Simons says. “We will eliminate all single-use plastic straws, and we can do it without any downside.”
Another exception is for people with disabilities who require plastic straws to drink or eat. Paper straws have limited usage time before they break apart and pose a choking hazard, while metal or glass straws can cause severe injury if someone bites down hard (as can happen during, for example, a seizure). Restaurants and bars in the District are still required to keep some plastic straws on hand for customers who require them.
“We need to work collaboratively with the supply chain, the regulators and the operators to find solutions,” Simons emphasizes. “If that means delaying or phasing in enforcement while the supply chain works to provide a true solution, so be it. We can’t pretend ideology is a substitute for reality.”
Learn more about Our Last Straw at www.ourlaststraw.org, including a list of local restaurant groups and other spots participating in the eco-friendly initiative.
600t: 600 T St. NW, DC
Buffalo & Bergen: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.buffalobergendc.com
Founding Farmers: Various locations in the DC area; www.wearefoundingfarmers.com
Hank’s Cocktail Bar: 1624 Q St. NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com
Tiki TNT: 1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.tikitnt.com
When the team behind Colony Club looked to open their next cocktail bar, they aimed to recreate the kind of spot they’d frequent. That meant a cool vibe and décor, good beer, a solid wine list, and approachable, well-crafted drinks. The result is No Kisses, which opened next door to Colony in DC’s Park View neighborhood at the end of March.
Like Colony Club, which operates as a coffee shop by day and a bar by night, No Kisses hopes to attract a broad audience to its indoor and outdoor spaces.
“We tried to keep the barriers to entry relatively low,” says Max Zuckerman, one of the bar’s three partners.
That means finding a variety of beverages, not just upscale creations. The cocktail program is overseen by Cody Hochheiser, who brings experience from DC institutions like 2 Amys and Pineapple & Pearls. He says his menu aims to hit many of the main spirits categories, from bourbon to mezcal. That goes for flavor profiles, too.
“I want to get fruity, I want to get herby, I want to get briny, I want to get boozy,” Hochheiser says. “There’s something for everyone.”
Among their cocktails is the NK Negroni, a variation on the classic elevated with Ford’s Gin, Vermouth del Professore, and both Alta Verde and local Capitoline Tiber amaro. Get spicy with the Tequila Cimarrón-infused Chili Wise or go for a simple Old Fashioned made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, nocino walnut liqueur, and black walnut and orange bitters.
Cocktails range from $11 to $13, and the menu figures to change as the weather warms, gravitating toward more refreshing cocktails like spritzes. Aside from liquor, the bar stocks both cheap and upscale beers, including a bunch of hand-imported selections. There’s also a more robust wine selection than most cocktails bars have on hand.
“If someone wants to just come in for a glass and not think about it, that’s fine,” Zuckerman says. “But we did put a lot of thought into making a really cool wine list.”
The bar is full of funky touches, including ceiling lights that change color, velvet-lined booths and dark wood floors. It reflects a cozy den designed for getting comfortable. Come later this spring, drinks can be enjoyed on picnic tables in the expansive outdoor “garden” shared with Sonny’s Pizza, also owned by the same trio. On that note: food isn’t served inside No Kisses, but customers are welcome to hang al fresco to enjoy a slice of Sonny’s pie along with their cocktails.
As far as the name, Zuckerman prefers not to dive too deep, saying only that it came from a short story the co-owners were reading while working on the business; it’s sure to be a talking point among guests. After four years running Colony Club, the team hopes they have a tried-and-true formula that will make locals feel at home, whether it’s sharing a bottle of wine or meeting up for a date.
“The neighborhood thing is pretty real to us,” Zuckerman says.
Follow No Kisses on Instagram @nokissesbar and learn more about the bar at www.nokissesbar.com.
No Kisses: 3120 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.nokissesbar.com
Shrub Cocktails: Next-Level Drinks with a Fruity, Acidic Kick
As DC eases into spring, the biting winds and slushy sidewalks of winter are slowly being replaced by warm breezes and flower beds. Inside, cocktail bars are welcoming the new season with vinegar-based fruit shrubs, which can add depth and complexity to any drink.
“We love shrubs for cocktails because you get your acid and your sweet at the same time,” says Charlie Berkinshaw, owner at DC-based Element Shrub. “If people are weirded out by putting vinegar in a drink, I usually tell them to just think about shrubs as the acidic component – with a little sweet – of the drink.”
Here are four spots to order this season that take advantage of this unique product.
Hank’s Cocktail Bar
Several shrubs are used in Hank’s “Market Fresh” cocktails, including the scotch-based Peat and Pineapples. The smoky cocktail includes Talisker whisky, jalapeno shrub, pineapple and spicy “fire” tincture. For something bubbly, choose the We’re Just Friends, which comes with cava and a rotating house shrub or syrup. 1624 Q St. NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com
Celebrate April with the spritz-inspired Pocket Full of Cherry. The colorful drink uses Mancino Sakura vermouth, sparkling sake, rhubarb shrub and Gran Classico bitter liqueur. 1090 I St. NW, DC; https://ccdc.momofuku.com
The new and extensive travel-themed menu at this Ritz-Carlton cocktail bar features The Covered Bridge with honey gin, Calvados brandy, and a house-made blueberry, lemon and ginger shrub. It’s rounded out with fresh lemon juice, honey and orange blossom water, lemon bitters, and an egg white. 1150 22nd St. NW, DC; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/washington-dc/dc/dining/quadrant
Kick back with a glass of Santiago Punch blended with pisco, house-made pineapple Thai basil shrub and Green Chartreuse. The drink gets additional tropical notes with the addition of velvet falernum, lime and bitters. 1314 U St. NW, DC; www.thesmithrestaurant.com/location/u-street
Learn more about Element Shrub at www.elementshrub.com.
As people continue to prioritize health and wellness and make those things accessible to all, options for positive additions to your healthy lifestyle are popping up everywhere. But just because you see something more, that doesn’t suddenly translate into common knowledge about the product’s benefits.
Take kombucha, for example. Despite existing for so long, this fizzy, fermented tea has had a nonstop audience for almost a decade. It’s gone from a craft concoction to something you can buy in generic brand form at your local grocery store. But all kombuchas aren’t created equal and knowing why fermented foods like it are essential to your diet can remove the mystery behind why this drink has experienced such staying power.
To remove the mystery behind this type of tea, we spoke to several local kombucha producers about the best parts of the product, what they do differently and where to find the best of the best brews.
Blue Ridge Bucha
Todd Schrecengost, Director of Marketing
On Tap: Are extra ingredients ever added to kombucha for health benefits?
Todd Schrecengost: We brew our kombucha with a variety of certified organic and fair-trade herbs, spices, and fruit extracts to create an authentically delicious product. Ingredients like elderflowers, berries, ginger root, etc. offer our customers variety in choosing which flavors are right for them.
OT: What does Blue Ridge Bucha do that sets it apart from other local producers?
TS: Our business is built on a refillable bottle model. We’ve asked our customers to buy glassware to fill and then refill with our product in order to eliminate wastefulness from single-use packaging. This has helped us save 933,750 bottles to date and counting. We also donate a portion of our sales to local nonprofit partners. On April 12, we will release a collaboration flavor in partnership with REI, with 100 percent of proceeds donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
OT: How often do you advise people to drink kombucha, and what is an ideal serving?
TS: There is no recommended intake for kombucha. As with anything you drink or eat, be conscious of how your body feels afterward and adjust accordingly.
You can find Blue Ridge Bucha at their newly opened, full-service taproom located at 1809 E. Main St. Waynesboro, VA. Visit www.blueridgebucha.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products and for more information on their collaboration with REI out in early April.
Meaghan and Shane Carpenter, Founders
On Tap: Can you share some background on HEX Ferments?
Meaghan Carpenter: We make four main varieties that we wholesale, a seasonal variety that changes every few months, and in our shop, we make three to four super small batches that highlight local herbs and spices from the farms we work with. We are the home of the original pea flower kombucha, which is a bright purple kombucha. We are the very first to have made a caffeine-free kombucha, which is our butterfly lime.
Shane Carpenter: We’re pretty unique in the way we package our kombucha, too. We do a bottle exchange program, so our goal is to stay out of the one-time use space. In our packaging process, we don’t ferment or package in plastic, which a lot of people do. We can see why they might – it’s lighter and cheaper – but toxicity issues with fermented foods prevent us from taking that shortcut.
OT: What encouragement would you give to someone who’s not fully on board with incorporating fermented foods into their diet?
MC: I just encourage them to try a little bit. From what we have noticed, your body is craving it. There’s a deficit in your body for these lactic acid bacterias. If you start consuming it, your body’s going to tell you that you need more of it.
SC: If you enjoy increased immunity [and] increased sustained energy, there’s a whole study about increased serotonin and diverse microbiomes making you happy. That’s a pretty good deal.
HEX Ferments’ brick-and-mortar store can be found at 529 E. Belvedere Ave. Baltimore, MD. They are also at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM farmers market every Sunday. Visit www.hexferments.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products.
Meagan Donica, General Manager
On Tap: What does the kombucha-making process look like at MTO Kombucha?
Meagan Donica: The kombucha-making process is as simple as making a batch of sweet tea, adding your starter SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and liquid, and waiting. At MTOK, we call the waiting period babysitting because we are constantly checking the growth, development and health of our new SCOBYs. We also test pH and taste test throughout the entire cycle. We ferment only small batches of kombucha, but hundreds at a time. This keeps the kombucha pure and the cultures strong and healthy.
OT: Where does the alcohol in kombucha come from? Can you actually get a buzz from it?
MD: When fermented correctly, a kombucha brewer can produce a kombucha tea that has little to no, or trace amounts of, alcohol. The legal limit is 0.5 percent. Most people associate the euphoric sensation they experience after drinking real kombucha with getting a buzz; however, that is not alcohol but simply the good bacteria working hard to cleanse your system of toxins, leaving you feeling calm and clearheaded.
OT: What makes MTO Kombucha unique?
MD: We stay local and only serve the DMV area within a 65-mile radius of our kombuchery and tasting room. We do our own distribution. We are the only made-to-order kombucha in the world. We only partner with other local small businesses.
MTO Kombucha can be found at 7124 Farm Station Rd. Vint Hill Farms, VA. You can also place orders through their online store for direct delivery at www.mtokombucha.com. Call 540-364-2639 to find the location stocking MTO nearest you.
Sid Sharma, Co-founder
On Tap: How do you decide what flavors to produce at Wild Kombucha?
Sid Sharma: One thing we focus on a lot is trying to produce unique flavors that aren’t really found in the market, but also contain a familiar taste or palate [of] flavors people may have already had. Our mission at Wild Kombucha is to make the product more approachable, and to offer a healthy alternative to our community.
OT: Why make kombucha part of your everyday diet?
SS: Based on how we consume foods in today’s society – processed foods like flour, and people taking medications like antibiotics –good flora that live in your gut can get flushed out. So fermented foods like kombucha help replenish that flora, which then can aid in digestion [and] boost metabolism. It’s been shown to boost the immune system as well.
OT: Why do you think people have reservations about drinking kombucha, and how would you combat that?
SS: People tend to be skeptical about things they don’t know about. As you’re introduced to [kombucha] in more than one avenue, you become more comfortable with it. I think the types of stores that sell our product are a testament to that. People now see kombucha multiple times a day, and once it becomes commonplace, people become less skeptical.
Wild Kombucha’s newly opened taproom and production facility is located at 4820 Seton Dr. Suite L, Baltimore, MD. Visit www.mobtownfermentation.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products.
I grow grass – but not the kind you’d think. It’s called Vallisneria Americana, and this green stuff has an entirely different purpose. This particular species of grass, commonly known as wild celery, proliferated on the bottom of local rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed centuries ago. Today, less than half of the underwater grass population remains.
This is a serious concern for ecologists, but also for anyone who enjoys Chesapeake blue crab and the bounty of seafood that comes from the bay. Underwater grasses are essential to the health of the bay ecosystem for a number of reasons: they reduce erosion, combat pollution, produce oxygen, and provide critical habitat for fish and shellfish.
That’s why I’m one of hundreds of volunteers in Virginia who grow wild celery in their homes, classrooms and offices each year with the goal of restoring the lost acres of grass beds in the bay watershed. Our efforts are part of an initiative run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) called Grasses for the Masses. It started in 2000 and since then, more than 2,750 people have served as grass caretakers.
As a clean water captain and regional coordinator for CBF and the grasses program, I help educate interested individuals about the process, which takes five months from planting seeds to transplanting grasses in local rivers. Each year in January and February, volunteers receive kits to set up growth tanks equipped with lighting, heaters and water pumps. Then, they plant seeds provided by CBF and watch and wait as those seeds germinate and grow into plugs, eventually turning into lush beds of grass.
After 10 to 12 weeks of growth and careful monitoring, the grasses are ready to make their way to their new home in the bay’s tributaries. In Northern Virginia, volunteers head to Mason Neck State Park in Lorton to transplant their charges into the Potomac River.
The program has seen great success over the years, but the impact isn’t limited to just planting new grass beds within designated areas of local rivers. The thousands of grass plugs planted by volunteers over the years produce hundreds of thousands of seeds that will serve as a seed bank to help boost populations across the watershed.
Thanks to restoration efforts like this, as well as significant water quality improvements in recent years, aquatic grasses are making a comeback. The 2017 survey by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science mapped the highest acreage of underwater grasses since data collection began in 1978. It also marked the third consecutive year that grasses increased bay-wide.
There’s still a long way to go to, but thanks to volunteers growing grass, I have high hopes.
If you’re interested in participating in the program, visit www.cbf.org/join-us/volunteer and fill out the form to volunteer in Virginia. Select “Underwater Grasses Restoration” as a volunteer interest in order to stay in the loop about next year’s workshops. You can also reach out to grassroots coordinator Gabby Troutman at [email protected]
Restaurateurs, co-chefs, and husband-and-wife team Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby speak with such purity about their passion for veganism, you’d be surprised to know neither grew up in a plant-focused household.
Instead, Landau, 51, feasted “ravenously” on a steady diet of cold-cut sandwiches; his family menu of “Jewish deli fare” included roast beef specials, Reubens, Italian hoagies and meatball sandwiches. Jacoby, 39, isn’t as specific, but mentions spaghetti and taco nights – and pancakes drenched in syrup.
Now, both are James Beard-nominated chefs specializing in modern takes on plant-based dishes like rutabaga fondue, Chioggia beet toast, sunchoke “ramen” and a variety of pastries. Don’t quote me on the specifics, though, as their selections evolve with the seasons at their three restaurants: Philadelphia-based Vedge and V Street, and H Street’s Fancy Radish.
“I had to invent a cuisine that would give you all the satisfaction of meat without any animal flesh,” Landau says of his style. “I learned really early on that food was really about flavor, it wasn’t about flesh. It was what cooks did to the meat; it wasn’t the meat itself that tasted good.”
Born and based in Philadelphia, the two make their way to the District frequently to work at their newest spot, which opened doors in March 2018. With Landau and Jacoby, the city netted two of the most celebrated vegan chefs in the country, each bringing their own stories to the kitchen.
Planting The Seeds
“Flashback to Sesame Street,” Landau begins. “Mrs. Wilson’s garden was one of the segments where this little girl named Jenny visited her mom’s friend Mrs. Wilson who had this garden in the country. They showed Jenny picking tomatoes off the vine and carrots out of the ground, and peeling the husks off corn, and I thought, ‘God, that’s beautiful; you walk that produce into your kitchen and you eat it.’ I said to my dad, ‘They didn’t show where the steak was coming from,’ so he said it came from cows and I imagined a cow laying a steak like a chicken would lay an egg.”
Upon learning how meat is actually produced, he quickly shifted to vegetarianism without a second thought and began cooking for himself as a teen. Because of the somewhat negative stigma his new diet carried, he found the road to becoming a chef a little bumpy, but was ultimately undeterred. Because culinary schools seemed to focus on carnivorous appetites, he found inspiration in old cookbooks and the processes of chefs like Julia Child.
“Back then, it wasn’t that easy to go vegetarian,” he says. “There were a few [meat substitutes] around, but it was all very grainy, herby and seedy. [But] I loved to cook, so I knew I could put myself on this path and go in a cook and come out a chef.”
Landau opened his first restaurant Horizons in 1994. In the years following, he served Philadelphia a variety of proteins, starches and vegetables. One of his customers was Jacoby, who’d eat at Horizons as often as possible when she visited home from college.
“I had gone there for a couple of years,” Jacoby says. “It was my favorite restaurant. I called it the health food restaurant.”
In 2001, Jacoby applied to work for Landau as a server and immediately volunteered for prep shifts as well.
“There were more and more opportunities at the restaurant, and I loved cooking so much,” Jacoby says. “I loved the restaurant and I believed in it. You have to learn how to adapt to your recipes. That’s what I enjoy about cooking: it was always something slightly different.”
The Acclaim of Vedge
One day, after an otherwise uneventful delivery from a farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Landau had an epiphany. Though his passion for Horizons hadn’t waned, he began to imagine more complex dishes – ones involving hours of prep time meant for a fine-dining experience.
“This guy brought us a box of vegetables that changed my life,” he says. “It was Mrs. Wilson’s garden all over again. Horizons was a vegan restaurant. We didn’t advertise that it was vegan, but people knew. [But] we wanted to be a vegetable restaurant. You’ve got your steakhouse [and] seafood house, and we wanted to be a vegetable house. One of the limitations we felt was there were a lot of people in Philadelphia that wouldn’t set foot in a vegan restaurant no matter how good it was, but they would go into a vegetable restaurant.”
Vedge was born in 2011, providing an enhanced, vegetable-forward experience intended to convey the inventive side of vegan cooking. Here, Jacoby and Landau found a true calling as they began to concoct sophisticated, flavorful dishes and fell in love with the process of cooking all over again. The restaurant garnered each of them success, including James Beard nominations.
“It was a time when people were more comfortable with small plates and shared plates,” Jacoby says. “People were being a little more adventurous and open-minded. If you were going out and knew you were going to share plates, maybe you’d be like, ‘I’ll try that,’ because you weren’t committing to one thing.”
Their menus were so celebrated and in-demand, the two decided to open a more casual location. V Street fused their vegetable sensibilities with their affinity for global street fare. In a city where they were initially hesitant to advertise their vegan-forwardness, Landau and Jacoby now had two thriving, vegetable-based restaurants.
“The food went from very simple things to these complicated, gourmet dishes that were very labor-intensive and prep-heavy,” Landau says. “I couldn’t go back on the process. They say excellence is not a final product, it’s an act you continually do. I wanted the restaurant to evolve into something very vegetable-focused, and it was insane. There were people you’d never expect to set foot in there, from ages 18 to 81.”
A Place For All
With the triumphs in Philadelphia, both figured the time was right for expansion. When looking for a new location, DC felt like the right fit.
“We were always talking about new projects,” Jacoby says. “What it really boiled down to is that we’re both very comfortable in DC. We always knew there was a little bit of a lack of full-service vegan restaurants down here, and it’s not too far from home.”
That being said, the goal for Landau and Jacoby has never been providing food exclusively for vegans or vegetarians. Instead, the dynamic duo is intent on making others fall in love with their flavorful vegetables despite any misconceptions they may have.
“We’re very careful not to get preachy,” Jacoby says. “We’ve always yielded to the mainstream because we’ve always wanted to be an inclusive restaurant. Everybody can come here and sit down and not have to worry about anything. We try to do a really good job at accommodating everyone.”
Neither are preachy, but they are passionate – and it’s infectious. Both have more knowledge on the subject of veganism and vegetarianism than you’d ever need to be convinced of its positive effects, but they’re not here to tell you. They’re here to feed you.
“It’s pretty idiotic to think that vegans are skinny California models starving themselves on a diet of bean sprouts for their next photoshoot,” Landau says. “I had to fight like crazy when we first started. If you told me back then where we are right now, I don’t know if I would have believed it would have come this far. I was just a guy who loved to cook.”
For more information on Fancy Radish, visit www.fancyradishdc.com. Follow the restaurant on Instagram @fancyradishdc and on Twitter and Facebook @fancyradish.
Fancy Radish: 600 H St. NE, DC; 202-675-8341; www.fancyradish.com
Cannabis legalization has been a hot topic for decades, but as federal legalization of the plant and its byproducts inches closer, policymakers, advocates and enthusiasts are in the weeds with conflicting state and federal laws. For the District, cannabis legality is particularly convoluted – especially when taking the different strains and uses of cannabis products into account.
Industrial hemp, for example, lacks the chemical compound of THC, which is responsible for producing the high that consumers get after ingesting the leaves of a regular marijuana plant. Industrial hemp has been descheduled as a schedule one controlled substance under federal law, but regular marijuana has not.
Then there’s byproducts of industrial hemp to consider like cannabidiol (CBD oil), which has surged in popularity because of its health benefits studied and tested by scientists internationally. It’s so trendy, in fact, CVS announced on March 21 it will begin selling CBD products in 800 stores across eight states.
While people who consume marijuana and its byproducts for medicinal purposes have more protection from the law in DC than those who consume it recreationally, the state of the plant’s legality is confusing, to say the least.
The distinction between DC and federal law is murky, especially because the District’s budget is controlled by Congress. But by looking at the timeline of legislation, one can start to parse out what is allowed – and what isn’t – in DC regarding marijuana and hemp consumption, possession and sales.
The Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on February 7 that year. While the bill reauthorized and established various federal agricultural programs, the most important aspect of the bill for cannabis advocates was the allowance of institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. Regular cannabis, however, remained a schedule one controlled substance alongside heroin and cocaine under federal law – where it still remains today.
Four years later, the Agricultural Act of 2018 passed, opening up the industrial hemp market by allowing states to regulate their own hemp production and research. But just because states are allowed to grow hemp doesn’t mean its byproducts are legal. Martin Lee, director of Project CBD, a nonprofit dedicated to CBD oil advocacy, takes issue with this aspect of the law.
“One of biggest problems – now according to the Farm Bill – is it’s legal to grow hemp and contents within hemp plant,” says Lee, who authored Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana. “But once it’s extracted out of the plant, it’s not clear what the legality is. [This bill] is like a patch for bad software, [and] it’s impossible to patch up the bad software of the Controlled Substances Act.”
The Controlled Substances Act is the federal law under which cannabis is classified as a schedule one substance. This makes recreational possession, consumption and the selling of cannabis illegal at the federal level, but DC’s robust medicinal program is licensed and protected to prevent the Department of Justice from targeting medical cannabis providers who are in compliance with state law.
In the District, Initiative 71, a voter-approved ballot initiative that went into effect in February 2015, legalizes recreational consumption and possession of less than two ounces of marijuana – as long as the adult is at least 21 years of age. Growing up to six plants and consuming marijuana is also legal in the privacy of one’s own home, but public consumption is still illegal.
Gifting marijuana under Initiative 71 is allowed as long as the amount is one ounce or less and there’s no goods, services or money exchanged for the product. This makes the commercial sale of marijuana products illegal but medicinal sales are still allowed, which explains the small number of medical dispensaries in DC.
Although Initiative 71 basically legalizes public possession of marijuana, albeit a few caveats, a federal officer still has the right to arrest anyone holding any amount of marijuana in the District under federal law. So, to answer the question: Is weed legal in DC? Sort of, but advocates remain optimistic for the not-so-far-off future of marijuana descheduling and legalization.
Groups all over the country are pushing for a change in legislation at the federal level, but the one place to celebrate cannabis nationally is right here in DC at the National Cannabis Festival.
Festival founder and executive producer Caroline Phillips says she and a group of cannabis advocates started the festival in 2016 for two reasons: to give supporters of legalized cannabis a place to congregate and confer with one another while celebrating the cause, and as a fresh way to have the conversation by creating an all-inclusive event no matter a person’s identity.
“We wanted to create an event that’s accessible and approachable for a broad range of people from all backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities,” Phillips says. “You’ll see people from 21 to 80 years old from all backgrounds [and] speaking different languages, but all coming together over the shared love of a plant.”
The 2019 National Cannabis Festival will take place on April 20 at the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds. Phillips says in its first year, the festival saw about 5,000 attendees; this year, she’s expecting around 20,000.
“The response has been incredible,” she says. “We’re very lucky to have been so warmly received by our [community] of enthusiasts, patients, business owners and advocates. It’s exciting to see the way activists are taking the lead and working with for-profit organizations to make sure the cannabis industry is always connected to its grassroots – pun intended.”
While live music, an epic food court and a large selection of vendors will be the focal points of the event, the festival is also hosting a policy summit the day before on April 19. The policy summit aims to bring together “a diverse group of activists and leaders from government, business, healthcare, veterans groups, and civil rights organizations to discuss today’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities,” according to the festival’s website.
The summit is free to the public and will be the landing point for a multitude of important discussions on cannabis policy, including the media’s coverage of cannabis, the path to federal legalization, and the need for FDA regulations on hemp and marijuana consumable products.
Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, says the importance of FDA regulations is an especially big issue when looking at the medicinal side of the cannabis industry because patients deserve to know what exactly is in their medication.
“All cannabis advocates right now are looking forward to the day when they can work hand in hand with regulations like the FDA to ensure the medications that we put into hands of patients are safe,” he says. “Just in the same way you want to know what’s in the food you’re eating, it’s critical for people to know what’s in the plant.”
FDA regulations on cannabis will not only protect consumers but also allow for wider research and testing to be performed on the plant, which could lead to new and exciting discoveries about its medicinal properties, according to Phillips.
“Regulations would allow for us to develop and allow standards to be set by doctors and scientists, creating an environment for a product that is already in the hands of adults and going to continue being used on a broader scale not only in the U.S. but also around the world,” she says. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to support regulation and legalization in a burgeoning cannabis industry.”
Erica Stark, executive director at the National Hemp Association, confers with Phillips but includes the benefit of the doubt for marijuana, hemp and CBD oil producers that are doing the best they can to provide quality products to their customers.
“[The lack of regulations] is a very large problem in that consumers don’t know how to tell if they’re buying a quality product or not,” she says. “There’s plenty of good quality companies out there that are doing things the right way – the problem is bad actors out there.”
This month, the FDA plans to begin public hearings on allowing companies to produce CBD-infused food products, as commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the House Appropriations Committee in late February.
But before the FDA can begin setting regulations for the cannabis industry writ large, Phillips says the first step is descheduling the plant from the federal controlled substances list and then legalization, although she would like to see both happen simultaneously.
“Activists on the federal level are trying to push the government to full legalization and would like to see the government immediately deschedule cannabis so we can have broader testing,” she says. “A lot of folks are looking at the next presidential campaign cycle with candidates in support of legalization.”
While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the future of cannabis looks like in the District and the country at large, one thing all the experts sourced here agree on is growth. On the CBD oil side of things, Lee of Project CBD says he believes the trend of hemp-based oils will continue and expand exponentially once regulations are in place.
“CBD has disordered the cosmos of the federal government,” he says. “It’s the hottest thing going these days. What we need are policies that facilitate wide access to CBD products but also regulate them on the basis of public health concerns.”
Stark at the National Hemp Association thinks the CBD oil market in particular will depend on the FDA and how they choose to regulate it.
“Assuming the FDA goes down a reasonable path [with regulations], the CBD industry will expand exponentially,” she says. “It’s already quite large and will only get larger as demand increases.”
Meanwhile, Fox from the National Cannabis Industry Association says he thinks the cannabis industry will likely follow the model of the beer industry, with big producers handling the average consumer market and smaller, localized producers serving the organics and artisan market.
“I really think consumer demand is going to shape the industry as opposed to corporate interest,” he says. “Because of the time at which this industry is evolving, I think corporate responsibility and ethics in sourcing is going to be more important [with cannabis] than most consumer products because of the culture of the consumers’ concerns.”
Phillips of the National Cannabis Festival thinks the industry will follow along a line similar to what Fox proposes; but she’s focused on the District specifically and reiterates her point on the importance of regulation.
“Because you’re allowed to do home growing in DC, it allows a lot of cannabis connoisseurs – not unlike craft brewers – to experiment with different strains at home and see what they can grow,” she says. “The danger of the unregulated market that we have in many states is patients can’t always be certain how a plant has been grown.”
Tap these educational resources to learn more about cannabis legalization.
National Cannabis Industry Association: www.thecannabisindustry.org
National Hemp Association: www.nationalhempassociation.org
Project CBD: www.projectcbd.org
To learn more about cannabis in a festival setting, check out the National Cannabis Festival on Saturday, April 20. Doors open at 12 p.m. Tickets are $45.
RFK Stadium Festival Grounds: 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.nationalcannabisfestival.com
CBD in the District
District Hemp Botanicals
Established in May 2017, District Hemp Botanicals was the first hemp-based CBD store to open its doors in the DMV. The shop boasts a wide selection of CBD and hemp products, from CBD salves and massage oils to bath bombs and gummy edibles. 9023 Church St. Manassas, VA and 19 Wirt St. SW, Leesburg, VA; www.districthempstore.com
National Holistic Healing Center
This medical dispensary located in Dupont Circle now serves all registered DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients as well as registered patients from select states. Led by CEO Dr. Chanda Macias, who has dedicated more than 15 years to understanding how medical marijuana can impact patients, the center has 98 percent patient retention and adds more than 100 new patients per month. To purchase marijuana products from the center, one must be a registered medical marijuana patient. 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.nationalholistic.com
Relâche Spa at Gaylord National Resort
Starting this month, Relâche is featuring 50-minute CBD oil massages for a limited time. Spa director Debra Myers says if customers respond well to the specialty massage, she will consider adding the offer permanently to Relâche’s menu. “CBD is touted to decrease anxiety, lower inflammation, reduce pain and help improve sleep, which can all be achieved topically through the CBD hemp oil used during the massage service,” she says. Each massage costs $185 and the CBD oil used is Mary’s Nutritionals hemp oil and muscle relief compound. 201 Waterfront St. National Harbor, MD; www.nationalharbor.com/gaylord-national
Vim & Victor at The St. James
There’s a little something for everybody at Vim & Victor. Chef Spike Mendelsohn created the menu with health and wellness enthusiasts in mind, as well as everyday community members. Pro tip: try Mendelsohn’s own line of CBD-infused PLNT waters. 6805 Industrial Rd. Springfield, VA; www.vimandvictor.com
The ancient Egypt you know is a lie. It’s a golden, glittering myth created by Hollywood as an excuse to parade Elizabeth Taylor around draped in gold and makeup. The ancient world could not have been so divorced from the Egypt of my youth: dusty, hot, poor and filled with people who aren’t white.
One exhibit in DC this year is setting the record straight.
The National Geographic Museum is hosting an exhibit on the Queens of Egypt in DC until September 2, and Nat Geo researchers have taken a more nuanced approach to discussing women rulers in ancient Egypt.
The way ancient Egypt exists in the collective Western imagination is not actually how it existed at all. According to National Geographic Egyptologist and author of When Women Ruled the World, Kara Cooney, real life in the ancient world was extraordinarily hard.
“The reality was very different,” Cooney says. “We’re talking about people with a much darker skin color to be sure – people of a North African descent – and a place that, while opulent for a few, was much more real for others in terms of a hard life: constant labor, farming, parasites, diseases, life expectancy at the age of 30.”
The myth probably started with Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. For all of his contributions to literature, the Bard portrayed Egypt as little more than a place to get a tan and cheat on your wife.
So even though there was more to life in ancient Egypt, at least we are right in feeling empowered by its female rulers. Right? Well, it’s more complicated than the “You go, girl” mentality we tend to adopt when talking about Egypt’s queens.
Although some women were able to attain the highest positions of power in Egypt, they still ruled and existed within a rigid, unforgiving patriarchal society. Many queens were simply holding the throne until the rightful king – a son, nephew or brother – was old enough to assume it.
And while each queen ruled differently – facing different challenges, accomplishing different goals and failing in different ways – their entire existence as a ruler was in service of a system that would hand power to the appropriate male as soon as he was old enough.
“There were some women who could surmount the obstacles in their path of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but there was not one woman who was a feminist who was going to move the system in a different direction,” Cooney says. “There was no way of thinking in that way in the ancient world.”
The West likes to think of Cleopatra as the most empowered of queens – even Cooney describes her as the least traditional. But her relationships with Roman warlords, which long ago captured the Western man’s imagination, were intended to solidify her power. And by getting involved with Rome, she invited their violence and civil war into Egypt, Cooney says.
“She’s brought herself into that realm so one can ask: is that Cleopatra knowing she needs a man, a male presence by her side, and looking to the strongest man in her political arena and getting herself in trouble by drawing a target on her back?”
The fact that Cleopatra is the queen cemented in our minds is quite revealing. Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1479-1425 BC, was arguably the most successful queen.
Hatshepsut assumed the throne as regent on behalf of her infant stepson after her husband’s death. After just five years, she was crowned pharaoh. She was such a successful ruler that she was often depicted with masculine features, including a beard as a symbol of her power.
According to Cooney, the queens we can name tell us a lot about how we treat women in power. The ones who succeed have their womanhood erased. The ones who fail are immortalized as a warning against vice and promiscuity.
“One succeeded and one failed. One is forgotten and one is remembered. And I like those comparisons. They’re very useful for us to see what we do to the female who is a failure. [We] make her a cautionary tale. And what do we do to the [successful queen]? Just erase her.”
If learning about the queens of ancient Egypt with all their complexities and flaws sounds more interesting than watching Elizabeth Taylor make eyes at white men for four hours, then check out the National Geographic Museum’s Queens of Egypt exhibit.
The exhibit is open daily until September 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12 and can be purchased online or at the museum until 5 p.m. Learn more about the exhibit at
National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org
Basketball has always held the hearts of people from all over the world. Need proof? Just turn on your TV until you find an NBA game. Hell, you can look at just this past year’s all-star roster featuring players from Germany, Greece, Australia, Cameroon, Serbia and Switzerland all sharing the same court.
Since the 1992 Summer Olympics and the formation of the Dream Team, basketball reached a fever pitch internationally. And though it’s unlikely that most kids who pick up the ball and head to a court will make it to the professional level, the game is nonetheless celebrated and played everywhere.
“It shows how we’re all connected around this common game,” photographer Bill Bamberger says. “It’s played worldwide. You can come upon [courts] in Italy and South Africa, and you can step up and play. It’s open to anyone willing to step on the court.”
Bamberger grew up hooping when he was a child, and in 2004, the established photographer began shooting courts near his home in North Carolina. Over the next 15 years, he traveled the country – and the world – collecting a diverse set of images depicting places people shoot, dribble and ultimately connect through this game. From now until next January, 75 large-format photographs from his massive collection are on display in his exhibition HOOPS at the National Building Museum.
“It was completely unintended,” he says. “I often start my projects close to home, and you expect to find courts everywhere. I love to explore the middle of nowhere, and I’d see these courts in cotton fields and in barns. I like some of the early ones that speak toward different times; not all of them are active and some are relics.”
Though the photographs are creatively captured through a series of environmental portraits, a majority of the 22,000 pictures feature basketball courts that aren’t what you’d expect to see at your local park. Some feature murals on bordering walls and a vibrant blacktop with a plexiglass backboard, while others are made up of a dirt surface with beat-up pieces of metal acting as rims.
“You take that basic design and it becomes interpreted in different ways,” Bamberger says. “The permutations are virtually endless, and each court reflects the design and influence of the host community.”
The courts are tremendously varied and display a certain amount of ingenuity on the part of the people who put them in place, while the backdrops for the photographs shed light on the communities they serve. From Italy and South Africa to New Hampshire and Philadelphia, each portrait displays a unique sense of place.
“I drove through Colorado and Utah and South Dakota just looking for hoops, and they were everywhere,” he says. “One of my favorites is a campsite in Utah. There was a hoop in the middle of these grassy fields and I photographed them in the distance, making the point that even in really remote places like this, you’ll find a court for young people.”
Bamberger didn’t just focus on public places; he often found extremely intimate settings worth immortalizing. There are a number of selections featuring courts in abandoned areas and others in family backyards.
“[For] some of the private places, I would stop and knock on the door. In every instance, I would ask. The same is true internationally. I remember I was on a court in Naples, Italy and there was a lot of ballers playing on the court. There was one who spoke some English, and I just asked them to clear the court.”
If nothing else, Bamberger set out to show how connected we are as a society through this one universal game. Whether your court is regulation-size in the middle of a city or involves a tree, a hubcap and a block of crooked wood, you can still pick up the ball and hoop.
“It’s been one of the truly fun projects to work on,” the photographer says, reflecting on the past decade. “I work on long-term projects, and as an artist, it’s been a joy to have something I can take worldwide. It represents the full range of the work. It’s probably time to let go, but it’s going to be hard. This exhibition represents a stopping point and opportunity to reflect on the project.”
HOOPS will be at the National Building Museum through January 5. Admission to the museum is $10. For more of Bamberger’s work, visit www.billbamberger.com.
National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; 202-272-2448; www.nbm.org
The relationship between man and water has long been part of our biological history as a species. In the U.S., European settlers often chose locations near rivers and lakes because of the convenience and access that comes with living near clean water; those settlements often transformed into massive hubs of industry and transport over the next two centuries. DC’s story is the same.
Booming areas like Capitol Riverfront became extremely profitable off the flow of the Anacostia River, but the river did not improve in the same way. Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) President Jim Foster says 40 years ago, no one wanted to even go near the water because of the smell and pollution.
But since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, AWS and other organizations like Anacostia Riverkeeper and DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) have dedicated resources to bring the human connection back to the Anacostia by leading cleanup efforts, proposing legislation and educating the public on why it’s so important to have a clean water source. DC Water, the District’s Water and Sewer Authority, has also contributed to the river cleanup in a big way as part of the Clean Rivers Project, a two-billion, 20-year initiative that will reduce combined sewer overflows by 98 percent in the Anacostia River through a massive infrastructure program designed to capture and clean wastewater during rainfalls before it ever reaches the river.
Construction on the Clean Rivers Project Phase I deep underground tunnel system began in 2013 and was completed in spring 2018, contributing to a much-healthier-than-before Anacostia River. Capitol Riverfront is a primary example of the benefits cultivated from their hard work.
“Capitol Riverfront was an opportunity to do waterfront redevelopment with high-end retail [and] residential office space for a whole new group of folks,” Foster says. “It married up well for the goals of local population and the cleanup of the river.”
As the river became cleaner and more people visited its waters, the AWS received more support from the general population to do something about the state of the Anacostia. As more people moved to the waters, the river became cleaner because of the residents’ personal investment in its well-being. This beneficial, symbiotic relationship all starts with education and getting people down to the river to see for themselves, according to Anacostia Riverkeeper Outreach Coordinator Trey Sherard.
“The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District wants a river that they’re proud of, that looks clean and supports healthy recreation,” he says. “For the sake of the river, having the neighborhood here brings so many people to the river who may not have seen it or interacted with it otherwise.”
Capitol Riverfront is one of the only places in DC with easy access to the Anacostia, which makes it important to the cleanup efforts of Anacostia Riverkeeper and other organizations, according to Sherard.
“It’s one of the only places where people live this closely to the river,” he says. “People only started seeing how dirty the river was maybe four or five years ago. Then they wanted to join groups and get involved. This whole conversation around a clean Anacostia wouldn’t have happened as fully or with as much broad support so quickly without this neighborhood here.”
But the DC population isn’t the only entity benefitting from the effects of cleaning the rivers. DOEE Director Tommy Wells says one of the most telling signs of the improvement in the waters has been the return of the eagle to its shores.
“Fifty years ago, there were no eagles on the river,” he says. “Four years ago, the eagles returned and they’re on their fourth [or] fifth generation of eaglet. They can finally feed themselves off the river again.”
Although there has been a massive overhaul in the cleanliness of the river over the past several decades, Foster, Sherard and Wells all agree there is still work to be done. AWS wants to make the river swimmable again and has a plan to get there by 2025. Foster says the organization created the Waterway to 2025 plan five years ago to “help drive that vision of connecting people through storytelling through the river.”
“Everybody has a different mindset or connection to the water,” Foster says. “It can be spiritual [or] it can be liking to reflect and relax and be energetic in sports. The water is very powerful. To stand here and look at a waterbody that you can’t touch is just not right. We advocate, we try to engage and persuade and teach people, and if we can’t make that work, we find the legal remedy.”
Meanwhile, Anacostia Riverkeeper is continuing to test the river for E.coli – the bacteria present in solid waste – as they have done for the past few summers. But this year, they have a $140,000 grant from the DOEE to expand testing sites to cover the rest of the rivers in DC and include temperature and pH levels in the readings. This year’s water testing data will be posted online to the Anacostia Riverkeeper website and to Swimmable, an app used to track whether or not the natural bodies of water would be swimmable on any given day. Sherard says there’s an intention behind making the data public.
“In DC, when it’s a 110-degree natural heat index, we think it’s silly you can’t swim in the natural water bodies,” he says. “It’s illegal to swim in the rivers, and we want to get that ban lifted by studying how many people are swimming and document days when water is swimmable.”
A throng of volunteers from many different organizations invested in the cleanliness of DC’s natural water supply will conduct the tests this summer. Sherard says he would love to see more people to volunteer and come out in support of cleaning the rivers because there’s nothing like having a clean body of natural water to recreate on.
“People love water,” he continues. “Almost all the world’s cities are on rivers or coasts. We want to simultaneously introduce people to the Anacostia and have them realize the river is fun and safe.”
For more information on how to get involved with Anacostia River cleanup efforts, visit AWS at www.anacostiaws.org and Anacostia Riverkeeper’s at www.anacostiariverkeeper.org. To review the Clean Water Act and learn more about DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project, visit www.doee.dc.gov and www.dcwater.com/cleanrivers.
This article also ran in the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District’s 2019 Riverfront Review, an On Tap-produced publication.
DC’s newest river recreational hotspot Ballpark Boathouse will officially open its docks for kayaking, canoeing and river tours on the Anacostia in late May. Stay cool on the river and tour some of DC’s most notable locations like the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Riverfront this summer. Potomac Avenue and First Street in SE, DC; www.boatingindc.com/boathouses/ballpark-boathouse
Instead of taking a stroll down crowded downtown streets this summer, get out to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The continuous 20-mile trail along both sides of the river for walkers, runners and cyclists alike is perfect for a jaunt in the cool breeze off the Anacostia. Only 12 miles of the trail are currently open, but DC’s Department of Transportation is working hard to get the Capitol Riverfront project completed. Start at Diamond Teague Park and head east along the Anacostia riverfront in SE, DC; www.capitolriverfront.org/go/anacostia-riverwalk-trail
Riverkeeper Motorized Boat Tours
Join the Anacostia River Explorers this summer for an educational river tour focused on the Anacostia’s history, wildlife, environmental threats and possible solutions to the problems it faces. The best part? They’re free. Various locations in Capitol Riverfront, check website for details; www.anacostiariverkeeper.org/tours