Cultured Cannabis

Departments - Upfront | Highlights

Oakland museum holds first-of-its-kind exhibition on issues surrounding cannabis.

November 18, 2015


This year, the discussion around cannabis in California was brought to a new high amid historic shifts in state regulation. Next April, that conversation will be put on public display at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) in the exhibition, “Altered State: Marijuana in California.”

The show is the first of its kind exploring the ideas and culture surrounding cannabis from multiple points of view, including social and political perspectives, and scientific data and opinion. Currently, the exhibition is under development, but the concept has been building as the statewide conversation has grown louder. The museum is trying to reflect that discussion, according to Kelly McKinley, director of the OMCA Lab.

“Part of our mission is to really position the museum as a platform for conversations that matter to Oakland or to the people of California,” she says. “We really felt this is a topic that’s being talked about at dinner tables, and in bars and in parks, and this is something we should tackle. Could we actually create the conditions in the gallery where different kinds of people from all walks of life might come together to have a conversation about this?”

During development, the team looked for responses from the community in how to build that kind of space, even hanging butcher paper with markers and asking for visitor feedback. That helped pull together the 10 sections covering different contemporary perspectives on cannabis: Cannabis Science, Medical Marijuana, Profitable Pot, Sacred Ganja, Criminal Dope, Creative Grass, Evil Weed, Politically Loaded, Youth and Marijuana, and Recreational Reefer. The show itself isn’t focused on any particular parts of the museum’s collections, but is a little more experimental in nature, says McKinley.

The initial plans for the show were about finding the right images and information to describe the culture around cannabis, but that changed as visitors started interacting with the prototype space, according to Sarah Seiter, associate curator of natural sciences for OMCA.

The exhibit will include interviews from people involved in the industry, from growers to dispensaries to lab workers, as well as social and financial data.

“At that point, we got such great questions, so we came back and said, ‘Maybe this show is really more about the questions people ask each other and the questions people have,’” says Seiter.

One way that’s shown is by ending each of the exhibit’s section titles with a question mark—to ask if that view is an interpretation that makes sense, Seiter says. And rather than just dictating what’s legal in each state so far, the exhibit will ask what state model would work best for California, based on what is happening around the country.

“In Profitable Pot, there are all these businesses that are emerging to capitalize and serve the market of growers and entrepreneurs,” she says. “But at the same time, if you look at the current revenue for the eight dispensaries that are operating in Oakland, it’s about $4 million in taxes. When you think about Oakland as a city with massive needs, is $4 million really going to move the ball forward the way people are imagining? We want people to ask.”

The show will include interviews from people involved in the industry, from growers to dispensaries to lab workers, as well as social and financial data. Seiter hopes to have a space in the center of the exhibition to give visitors the ability to sit and discuss their perspectives.

The exhibition will be on view in the OMCA’s Great Hall from April 16 through Sept. 25, 2016.