The Columbian / Associated Press

California pot exhibit aims for debate on provocative plant

Marijuana smoking paraphernalia sits on display as part of the "Altered State: Marijuana in California" exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland, Calif.  (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s known as Mary Jane, ganja, Chronic and even the sticky icky and has been featured in countless movies, including one that warned of its dangers, “Reefer Madness.”

Now, marijuana is the subject of a contemporary history and science exhibit.

“Altered State: Marijuana in California,” a one-of-its-kind museum exhibition focusing on the topic, is open through the summer at the Oakland Museum of California.

Set against the backdrop of a California ballot measure this year asking voters to legalize marijuana’s recreational use, the exhibition features artwork, political documents and posters, scientific displays, and interactive and multimedia exhibits all meant to provoke questions and conversations about the provocative plant.

“We have designed an open and participatory experience to engage anyone who has an opinion or wants to learn more about the complex issues and information about this topic,” said Associate Curator of Natural Sciences Sarah Seiter.

“We’re interested in presenting a forum for all sides of deep community conversations about marijuana, its history, politics, culture and impacts on our state,” Seiter said.

The exhibit comes at a time when 35 states already have medical marijuana laws on the books and four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized weed for recreational use.

It is organized into 10 different areas of focus — Cannabis Science, Medical Marijuana, Profitable Pot, Sacred Ganja, Criminal Dope, Creative Grass, Evil Weed, Politically Loaded, Youth and Weed, and Recreational Reefer. It was a two-year project with about 100 collaborators.

“Weed has a lot of fans,” Seiter said. “We didn’t want to open ourselves up to criticism. We wanted to do our homework.”

Highlights of the exhibition include live and preserved specimens of cannabis on loan to the museum, a walk-in installation by artist Cybele Lyle that alters viewers’ perspectives of space and time, and a “Cannabis Confessional” that allows visitors to share their private, anonymous thoughts about marijuana.

“All of us as individuals and as staff have very personal and emotional reactions to pot,” said Lori Fogarty, the museum’s director. “I think a lot of that depends on where you are in your life and your own personal experiences. What we were striving to do is move the conversation beyond those purely emotional reactions to a broader understanding.”

The exhibition runs through Sept. 25.