Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jun 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Robin Abcarian


The marijuana expert was in.

Dale Gieringer, 70, a coauthor of California's 20-year-old medical 
marijuana law, was taking questions at a metal desk plopped down in 
the middle of an unusual new museum exhibit, "Altered State: 
Marijuana in California."

A neatly dressed 77-year-old woman from Walnut Creek took a seat next 
to him. She seemed hesitant, but determined. Her husband hovered behind her.

"I've never smoked anything," the woman told Gieringer, one of 
several pot experts invited to answer questions on the occasional 
Friday evening. "And I've been using Blackberry Kush for sleeping. 
Will it hurt my lungs? That's what I'm worried about."

Behind her, as Gieringer explained that vaping was probably less 
harmful than smoking, the face of a well-known Mendocino grower, 
Swami Chaitanya, popped onto a video screen. Museum visitors watched 
as he discussed the spiritual aspects of ganja. Nearby, a bunch of 
young adults were sprawled on bean bags, watching a history of 
pot-related public service announcements, which have evolved from 
war-on-drugs era scare tactics to Colorado's post-legalization pleas 
for sensible use.

In an area devoted to the medical uses of marijuana, visitors were 
invited to share their experiences on white clipboards, hung on the 
wall: "It helps with the back pain from serving in the Marine Corps." 
"Cures my anxiety." "Helps to control my tremor."

Behind plexiglass in the middle of the room, four beautiful pot 
plants glowed green under indoor lights.

"They're not ours," said the exhibit's curator, Sarah Seiter, with a 
giggle. "We're holding them for a friend."

This is an ambitious undertaking for the Oakland Museum of 
California, but it comes at the right time and in the right place. 
The museum's mission is to tackle timely and important topics. (I'm 
looking forward to "All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50," 
scheduled for October.)

Already, a million or so Californians have medical cards, which 
enable them buy pot legally at dispensaries. An initiative heading 
for the November ballot will ask voters if they are willing to 
legalize pot for all adults, making it as accessible as alcohol.

"Legalization will have a profound impact on our state," said museum 
director Lori Fogarty. "And yet marijuana is often misunderstood, or 
people have a very limited perspective based on what they think they 
know. We are going to put the debate out there."

Her staff spent two years developing the exhibit, which is intensely 
interactive. They invited the public, including young people, to 
brainstorming sessions. The museum board signed off on the project 
with little hesitation. Oakland police signed off as well. Fogarty 
checked in with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee to explore whether mounting a 
marijuana exhibit would put the museum sideways with federal funding 
groups like the National Endowment for the Arts.

In the end, no federal funds were used. Nor did any money come from 
the marijuana industry. The only group credited with funding the show 
is the Oakland Museum Women's Board. "They are primarily older white 
women. The average age is 75," Fogarty said. "They've come a long way, too."

Some staff members had to get medical marijuana cards in order to 
handle the plants in the exhibit, which also includes a bud-filled 
box with built-in gloves so visitors can reach in to feel buds and 
leaves without making skin-to-dope contact. (Judging by the level of 
pulverization, I'd have to guess this was a popular stop.)

Interest in the exhibit, which closes at the end of September, has 
been high, Fogarty said. It is bringing thousands of new visitors to 
the museum, many of whom appear to be in the all-cash cannabis 
business. Behind the counter in the gift shop, Eve Kramer told me 
she'd never seen so many people pay with big wads of dollar bills.

Renee Landingham, a 40-something Berkeley cultivator, was strolling 
through the area devoted to marijuana science. "I'm impressed with 
the level of detail they've been able to capture," she said. "It's 
more in-depth than I thought it would be."

A display card asked, "Does marijuana cause schizophrenia?" Answer: 
"Fourteen studies have shown that smoking marijuana can trigger 
schizophrenia or cause symptoms to start at a younger age for people 
genetically predisposed to the disease. Four studies found that some 
schizophrenic patients actually improved when they used marijuana, 
but we don't know yet what makes patients respond positively or 
negatively to the drug."

In another area, visitors were asked to vote with magnets on certain 
legalization questions: Would they favor an end to prohibition if it 
meant there would be over 100 dispensaries in their cities? (As of 
Friday, the yeses were winning.) How about if the marijuana economy 
damaged the environment? (A resounding no.)

Karl Batten-Bowman, 39, a Google project engineer from Berkeley, was 
with his wife and two young daughters, who squealed as they stuck 
their gloved hands in the "bud box."

"I think it's really well done," he said. "If anything, it's late. 
The pot industry is huge here in Oakland."

I heard him laugh out loud as he read some unsigned cards that had 
been tacked to a wall next to the "Confessional," a curtained booth 
where visitors are invited to anonymously share their true feelings about pot.

"Weed has gotten too strong," one said. "It was way more fun when 1 
puff didn't render me stoopid."

"Marijuana makes me desire my husband," said another. "Without it I 
would pursue my love of women."

The single letter of complaint she's received, said Fogarty, came 
from the notoriously cranky Catholic League, which took exception to 
the confessional booth.

Fogarty responded that it looks more like a voting booth, and that 
the confessions are not just serious, but profound.

Indeed. If a hit of pot can save a marriage, maybe marijuana - or at 
least this exhibit - is something the Catholic League might want to get behind.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom