PORTSMOUTH, Va. — In Portsmouth, "pot" is the talk of the city this week.
As the Hampton Roads community prepares to host the 420ish Unity Festival this weekend, local leaders took part in the High Tide Cannabis Summit on Wednesday, also known as 4/20.
Organizers of the event called it a day of cannabis education, culture and entertainment.
Antonio Dowe, High Tide co-founder, said they want to ensure people in the community, especially people of color, understand marijuana laws.
"Black and brown people get left out of the proper education," said Dowe. "That was kind of the initial thought for me. How can I help my people have sustainable opportunity at a new industry?"
Dozens of people attended the free, one-day conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Portsmouth, including Charles Rasputin with the Virginia Cannabis Club.
"Because we are in gray area in Virginia, we want all of our citizens to practice safe practices and know how to operate within the law," said Rasputin.
"We want people to think medicine when you think of cannabis in Virginia," said Dowe citing a desire for open access and opportunity regarding marijuana. 'We don't want people to think party."
The High Tide summit, co-founded by Dowe and recording artist FAM-LAY, aimed to change negative stereotypes and to set the record straight on marijuana laws in Virginia. To do so, it featured marijuana advocates from across the country and several elected officials.
A panel on criminal justice reform featured Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover, Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales and Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Ramin Fatehi.
Right now in the Virginia General Assembly, there are new talks surrounding the enforcement of illegal possession.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently proposed misdemeanor charges, instead of a fine, for people caught with over two ounces to a pound of marijuana.
Fatehi does not think that should be the focus of the conversation.
"The focus needs to be on bringing the legal and regulated market for marijuana online now, as quickly as possible," said Fatehi. "Adding a regulated market that reduces the incentive to commit crimes related to the purchase and sale of marijuana is key."
Dowe said he hopes the summit helps change the perception of marijuana while preparing for the next steps in legalization.
"I would like to hope we've come too far to go back," he said.
The summit also featured a live concert with national recording artists at the Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion in Portsmouth.