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Oakland Museum of California's New Marijuana Exhibition

Pot goes under the microscope in a new museum exhibition.


The exhibition includes images such as the three seen here. Above: A flower on a Lemon Kush cannabis plant. // Flickr user eggrole

In one corner of the Oakland Museum of California’s first-of-its-kind exhibition on the social, medical, and criminal history of marijuana, museumgoers are invited to draw a picture. “Draw here if you’re high,” reads one sheet of paper; “draw here if you’re not,” says the other.

The test is meant partly as a gag, in keeping with the stoner humor explored elsewhere in Altered States: Marijuana in California, opening April 16. But it also points out just how hard some basic questions about cannabis are to answer. Such as: Does weed make us more creative?

A park ranger cleans up a marijuana grow site in the Santa Monica mountains. // National Park Service

Overall, Altered States explores California’s long and complicated relationship with the drug through 10 different exhibition sections with names such as Recreational Reefer, Politically Loaded, and Sacred Ganja.

California was one of the first states in the union to outlaw marijuana, in 1913, in the wake of the Opium Wars. It was also the first to approve of the drug’s medicinal use. (A measure to legalize recreational marijuana use is expected to appear on the November ballot.)

“It’s certainly an interesting canvas for people’s perspectives and concerns,” says Sarah Seiter, OMCA’s associate curator of natural sciences. “Californians have always tried to tie [weed] to larger societal changes, whether it’s the counterculture or the war on drugs, or whatever social movement is at the forefront.”

A bystander watches the La Brea fire, which started at an illegal marijuana grow site, blaze through Los Padres National Forest. // Airman first Class Andrew Lee/courtesy of U.S. Air Force

In fact, Altered States is the first of three exhibitions meant to engage visitors in questions of social justice. This fall, the museum plans an exploration on the legacy of the Black Panthers, and later, a look at the photography of activist-artist Dorothea Lange.

“This is definitely part of a broader push to be a space where people can talk about contemporary issues and address the social needs of Oakland,” Seiter says.

Altered States: Marijuana in California runs April 16 through September 25, museumca.org.

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