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The history surrounding the cannabis holiday “420” is shrouded in myth and widely debated in cannabis culture. The one aspect that is universally understood is that on April 20th (more specifically at 4:20 pm) stoners will be stoned. Vice News, along with the Huffington Post and other news outlets, have rigorously researched and fact-checked the origins of this dank celebration. The legend goes that three stoners back in 1970s Marin County, California, would meet up at their special spot and partake in the skunky herb, using the code “420” in place of the word “marijuana”. With letters and other mementos backing up their story, it seems that the debate can be finally laid to rest.

In honor of the 420 tradition – and with recreational cannabis on California’s ballot this year – the Oakland Museum of CA is hosting an interactive exhibition of cannabis culture. So, in the pursuit of knowledge, and fighting the urge to smoke myself silly on my couch while eating Cheetos like the majority of my stoner friends, I decided to see what the 420 exhibition was all about on this special day.

What To Expect

The Oakland Museum is showing the first marijuana museum exhibit, Altered State: Marijuana in California, giving the public a crash course in all things cannabis-related. The exhibition runs from April 16 to September 25, 2016, with a special $4.20 admission for those who visit on April 20th. The show’s tone is surprisingly neutral, showing the history, science, and opinions of both those for and against the cannabis movement. Neutrality aside, everyone attending seems to be having a great time learning about this special plant and the effect it has on modern culture.

The 420 exhibit is made up of several mini-displays, each with its own theme. Quotes of famous people’s opinions on marijuana covered the entry way of the exhibit – from Carl Sagan to Miley Cyrus. In the center stands a vending “munchie” machine filled with every stoner’s go-to snacks, like Cheetos (as stated earlier), Snickers Bars, Animal Crackers, and Starbursts. One display discusses the influence of cannabis on pop culture, from bands like Sublime to cult movie-star stoners Cheech and Chong. There are “hands-on” sections where one can touch cannabis leaves through a special glove box. At another sample station, patrons are allowed a whiff of cannabis strains like Granddaddy Purple. Booths for sharing marijuana secrets and doodle areas for the medicated and the sober allowed those attending the event to add their own unique footprint to cannabis history. These displays were very popular on 420, showing the fun and nostalgia behind the plant. They brought people together from different age groups, races, genders, and opinions – something that cannabis is already well-known for accomplishing. There are some displays however, that have a more sobering message.

The Serious Side of Cannabis Culture

To maintain the neutrality of the exhibit, there must be conflict and dissenting opinions on the subject. There are anti-marijuana posters and news reels, with clips of Reefer Madness and other propaganda playing in the background. Just like the secret booths, there are booths where those who’ve been negatively affected by marijuana can express their stories and opinions. One area discusses the affect cannabis culture has on the environment; it reveals how growing and processing cannabis can be harmful to wildlife by way of pesticides, irrigation practices, and the overall carbon footprint that cannabis users leave behind.

The effect of criminalization on cannabis culture is a key point in the museum’s presentation. On one wall, statistics and graphs show an all-too-familiar correlation between racism in law enforcement and cannabis stigma. A quote from then presidential nominee Ronald Reagan back in 1980 was especially jaw dropping: “Marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States.” Reagan’s rhetoric reflects the misinformation and fear-mongering that was prevalent at the height of the Drug War, and still impacts cannabis policy today.

The Oakland Museum has accomplished something great with Altered State. Educating the masses is an important step in making a change in this world. With education comes the pursuit of knowledge and a thirst for understanding; Altered State: Marijuana in California breaks down walls of false information and propaganda, exposing the truth behind the cannabis movement and its impact on history. Hopefully, this is just the first of many museums and galleries around the country that will educate the public about cannabis. Coming together to learn and share experiences is what makes us human in the first place. Cannabis culture is on the rise, and we can always use a little more culture.

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