Expand Your Mind at the Best Weed Museums in the U.S.

April 15, 2023 · Thrillist

THE FIRST THING YOU SEE upon entering the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood is a digital stained glass window stamped “Cannfessional.” Behind it is a small sound booth, wrapped in cloud-print wallpaper, with a glowing neon chair and a microphone dangling from the ceiling. Facing the chair on the wall is a TV with a camera mounted on top. This is where you reveal your truth.

With the Cannfessional, the museum encourages participants to record themselves telling stories of cannabis use, prompting dialog with questions like “How does cannabis help you?” and, “Describe your first cannabis experience” (you can also bear witness online from home). Responses illustrate the range of those who partake—from recreational to medical cannabis use and everything in between—collected for future showcases in a bid to destigmatize the plant. When you’re done “confessing,” pop in your email address, and receive a copy of your video in your inbox.

And the Cannfessional booth mirrors the aim of most of the museums on this list: to normalize cannabis use and thwart whatever stigma still remains. Be it by placing it in the context of history, illustrating its social proliferation, promoting its benefits, creating a museum of art fueled by it, showing how drug laws have disproportionately affected minority communities, or simply keeping it in the public conversation. Because it’s not going anywhere.

And yet, only in recent history has the drug created so much controversy. When hemp was first introduced to the US in 1619, a law was passed requiring it to be grown on farms in Virginia. Later, THC was used in medicines and sold openly in pharmacies. Even Presidents got in on the action. James Monroe was an avowed smoker, and both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington cultivated the plant on their land (though the powers that be at Mount Vernon are adamant that for Washington, it was just for the fibers).

It wasn’t until Mexican immigrants began using cannabis recreationally around 1910 that fear of the drug reared its head, heavily propelled by xenophobia. Propagandists called it the “Marijuana Menace,” and by 1931, 29 states had outlawed it. In 1937, federal law outright banned its sale and use in the US. Fast-forward to 1986—after the debut of the film Reefer Madness, a rise in countercultural use, the creation of the DEA, and the establishment of High Times magazine—and President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, instituting mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes, a move that was reinforced by President Bush’s infamous War on Drugs.

But the tides started to turn back in THC’s favor in 1996, when California legalized the drug for medical use. There’s still a way to go, of course, to get back to… the 1800s. The museums on this list are lending a new, energized voice to the larger conversation by creating dedicated spaces for discussion and engagement. And, in at least a couple of them, you can also buy weed.

Here are the best, most engaging, and just plain coolest cannabis museums in America.

Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum

Boston, Massachusetts
The location of Boston’s Core Social Justice Museum is important. Jamaica Plain is a neighborhood of immigrants, a population that usually finds itself a target of drug enforcement officials and one who rightfully looked askance at the initial idea of being associated with a museum about marjuana. But the founders of Core persisted, and with leadership spanning 72 % women, 82 % local investors, 81 % minority investors, and a collective 10 years of drug-related incarceration—plus curators including Ivy League professors and bestselling authors—the free museum opened in 2021 in conjunction with the SEED dispensary.

Through personal perspectives, the exhibits examine how drug policies have disproportionately affected low-income and minority populations while making a ton of money for those at the top. There’s also a wheel of paraphernalia (look for the Cookie Monster pipe), a replica of an illicit basement grow room, mugshots of the noteworthy people who’ve been arrested for drug possession, and a breakdown of the different effects of terpenes—all the better to inform your choices when hitting the attached dispensary.

THC NYC: The House of Cannabis

New York, New York

Opened in April 2023 in a landmarked building in SoHo, the 1910 facade of THC NYC belies the multisensory, futuristic exhibits within. Here, covering 30,000 square feet and four floors, there is some serious education, like an installation of interviews with those negatively affected by drug laws designed in collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance. And 20% of the employees are formerly incarcerated people, hired through A Second U Foundation. But the point of THC NYC is to celebrate, enthrall, and maybe even make you a little lightheaded, with an interactive—and psychedelic—art funhouse, creatively directed by a former experiential marketer for Disney, no less.

Though no THC is sold on premises, there’s plenty to get you to a higher state. The High Culture floor looks at cannabis through the lens of popularity, setting the scene with a distorted mirror installation called Disorientation, before a video time-warps through 600 years of cannabis history. A hazy room with a massive spinning LP serving as seating combines music, light, and movement, followed by a rotating art-meets-cannabis exhibit, currently Art of the Sneaker, which reflects upon the over two decades-long relationship between cannabis and sneaker culture. A floor below, The Plant houses the first urban grow farm, an interactive olfactory exhibit on terpenes, trippy macrophotography by Chris Romaine of Kandid Kush, and an immersive video poem by Curren$y called Seed to Soul. Then there’s the Hypnodrome, an audiovisual “guided levitation” by Australian artist Benjamin Gordon. Set to a soundtrack, images undulate and grow like a moving Rorschach test in an attempt to answer the question: Is it possible to feel high without being high? You’ll have to try it to find out.

Tickets are $45 a pop, and in the future, they’ll have community programming. But you can also hang on the first floor for free, grab some coffee from Jamaican roaster Sangster’s, and shop cannabis-related accoutrement—including items from Seth Rogan’s brand, Houseplant—watch glass bong-blowing demos, and take photos at a high-minded step and repeat backed by photos by cinematographer Ryan Postas for a series called The Art of Smoke. It’s enough to probably—okay, definitely—leave you wondering where the time went.

Marijuana Mansion

Denver, Colorado
Home to members-only cannabis club Tetra Lounge, the trippy International Church of Cannabis, and the very trippy Meow Wolf: Convergence Station, Denver already makes a strong case for a stoner’s paradise. And now there’s also the Marijuana Mansion. Opened in 2021 in a landmarked, probably haunted Victorian estate, it’s part event space, part immersive experience with elaborate photo-ops, and part history lesson. This was the headquarters of the Marijuana Policy Project as well as the birthplace of Amendment 64, which in 2012 made Colorado the first state to legalize recreational cannabis. It was later the offices of cannabis law firm Vincente Sederberg, which has played an influential role in the legalization movement.

The DEA Museum

Arlington, Virginia
Should the DEA museum be on this list? Sure, because if you’re looking at our nation’s criminalization history, this is where you’ll find the hard evidence. Renovated in January of 2022, the exhibit traces the founding of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973 as well as the science behind drug addiction. Displays include Taking Down El Chapo, complete with the Mexican cartel leader’s prison uniform, original courtroom drawings, and intense gold-plated weaponry, and Disrupt, Dismantle, and Destroy, which shows off a shiny red Harley Davidson as an example of the kind of asset forfeiture involved in toppling kingpins.

A wall of honor remembers those who’ve died in service, while online exhibits cover everything from the coca, cannabis, and poppy plants used to manufacture drugs to the history of drug use, images of artifacts like the (highly addictive) morphine syrettes given to soldiers in World War II, and a life mask of Pablo Escobar, made when he was behind bars. For a fun prank on your friends, stop by the gift shop and pick yourself up some branded apparel.

Dockside Cannabis Museum

Seattle, Washington

You’re probably well aware of Colorado’s pioneering 2012 marijuana legalization legislation. But there was another state that legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana that year: chill, unassuming Washington. In fact, it was the first state in the US to do so, a full three hours before the Centennial State.

And so it makes sense that Seattle is also the home to a museum dedicated to the stuff. The Dockside Cannabis Museum celebrates cannabis’s short-lived golden age before its prohibition in 1937, with the Wirtshafter Collection of pre-prohibition era cannabis items (named after curator and collector Don E. Wirtshafter of The Cannabis Museum). See the glass apothecary bottles that housed tinctures used to treat everything from migraines to anxiety to Parkinson’s (plus our favorite, melancholia). When you’re ready to find some medication of your own, just track down an onsite budtender: tThe museum shares a space with the SODO location of Dockside Cannabis Recreational Dispensary.

Cannabis Museum

Among the 10,000 items or so in the Cannabis Museum are many, many bottles. They call them Apothecary Glass Vessels, and they date to the 1830s when cannabis-infused medicine was sold over the counter freely in pharmacies. Scanning the range of these glass bottles, you get a sense of the drug’s hidden mainstream history before its federal ban in 1937. Add in the rest of the collection—prescriptions, medical records, books, magazines, photographs, posters, and hemp processing tools, among others—and the timeline, not to mention context, becomes nothing short of visceral. The research museum is open by appointment only, but there’s also an informative blog and Instagram for those who want to dabble. Keep an eye on the website, as they’ll occasionally advertise art shows and events.

Cannabition Cannabis Museum

Las Vegas, Nevada (planned)
The massive Planet 13 weed superstore in Las Vegas is the site of the upcoming Cannabition, an immersive cannabis museum that fills in any gaps in knowledge Sin City may have when it comes to the more serious side of cannabis consumption. But this is Vegas, so not only will it be educational, it promises to be a doozy. At the helm is creative director David Korins, whose credits include HamiltonBeetlejuice, and Immersive Van Gogh. (Full Story)

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