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Marijuana at the Museum


Altered State museum exhibit in Oakland is the antidote to Reefer Madness

Museums are perfect venues to address difficult or controversial topics in a non-judgmental and non-threatening way. They create interactive experiences that appeal to the masses, but feel personal and transformational. Such is the case with the Oakland Museum of California’s Altered State: Marijuana in California exhibit, which opened in April and runs through September 25.

Altered State showcases the marijuana plant and the attitudes, beliefs and culture that accompany it. Of course, it’s easy to understand why a showcase of all things cannabis is taking place in Oakland, one of the most progressive pot cities in the world. Seeing the beautiful plants on display from Dark Heart Nursery and enjoying the quotes and anecdotes from reformers and industry leaders immortalized on the walls made me feel all warm and fuzzy. On June 20, Berkeley Patients Group and Drug Policy Action hosted an event at the museum to raise money for the legalization effort in California. However, Altered State is not just for the cannabis aficionado or ganjapreneur.

The exhibit is appropriate for all ages, and provides valuable information for those not familiar with the intricacies of indicas and sativas. In addition to showing products from local dispensaries, there’s an accurate timeline of medical cannabis discovery, and hands-on activities to assess the science behind marijuana as a medicine.

In one area, statements from adolescents on the wall convey how they feel about having marijuana in their communities; not all are positive. Visitors are invited to write about their marijuana experiences, which range from lifesaving to anxiety and paranoia; these statements are also on display.

Besides describing the beginnings of Reefer Madness in the 1930s, and high-lighting the original Drug Czar, Harry J. Anslinger, the exhibit also shines a light on the racial disparities in marijuana policing today, and presents data gathered by organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU showing how this has disproportionately impacted certain communities. Finally, the exhibit poses questions about legalization and allows visitors to weigh in on the aspects of legalization they’re most concerned and excited about.

Until very recently, propaganda and resistance to change have plagued and perpetuated marijuana prohibition. Propagandists seek to create opinion by pushing biased and misleading information that elicits strong emotions. Opinions based on fear, and not facts and science, are hard to change when people have a gut feeling that they’re right to protect themselves from a supposed menace. Increasing the public’s awareness of the science behind cannabis, the impact of its use on consumers, the immense and ongoing toll of the drug war and the racial disparities in policing has done much to weaken the hold of Reefer Madness.

Exhibits like Altered State create crucial opportunities for an enlightened society to discuss the facts and learn the truth. And given probable legalization in several states this November, including California, its timing couldn’t be better.



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