"'You Are THC' is the whole concept of the museum," JJ Walker - the founder of Cannabition - told Civilized during a tour of the venue last week. "This is an immersive art attraction that combines the aspects of a fabricated experience with education. We call it the Instagram-ability of it. So we played off of Meow Wolf [the interactive art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico] and [New York's] Museum of Ice Cream, added the culture of cannabis and wrapped it up in this art exhibit."
Cannabition is home to many relics and installations dedicated to cannabis culture, including the world's largest bong — though they can't get that claim to fame certified because the people at the Guinness Book of World Records refuse to touch anything involving cannabis.
"We did hit up Guinness Book of World Records, who will not list the museum because it is cannabis-related," Walker explained. "Just the word 'cannabis' itself is an issue, even though our museum doesn't touch the plant at all. We hit them up twice, and both times they said that, because of the subject matter, they could not include us at this time."
That explanation reeks of hypocrisy since the Guinness Book was developed specifically to help pub-goers settle disputes. So alcohol is okay, but cannabis isn't—even though it is safer than liquor.
"It makes no sense," Walker said, adding that he encountered more difficulties when trying to get accounting software for the museum. "QuickBooks, which is associated with Chase Bank, looked at our account. And even though we've got no marijuana - we're a straight museum - I got my credit card processing cancelled. It's interesting in America - Land of the Free - that just working with the subject matter of cannabis can make some of these companies so scared, they won't even work with us."
If you're too scared of cannabis to step inside the museum, or you simply can't afford to take a trip to Vegas, don't worry: you can take a virtual tour of the museum by reading our interview with JJ Walker below.
JJ Walker: This museum is designed to help reduce some of the stigma associated with cannabis. This larger-than-life installation is very clean, very modern and reflects where the industry has come from and where it's going. We hope the people coming through here - whether they are consumers or non-consumers - can appreciate the growth of the culture and what it will become. This industry is not going anywhere. This museum is kind of saying, "We're here. We're not afraid. This is not your basement where you get stoned anymore. This is mainstream America."
James: What kind of challenges did you encounter when you were trying to make the installations Instagram-able?
JJ Walker: The big thing is none of this stuff has ever been created for us. The entire exhibit came from deciding what we wanted to do, then figuring out how to build it. More than 80 percent of what you see in the museum never existed in the world. So we had to work with all types of unique fabricators from five different states. Ever seen the TV show 'Tanked'? They actually created the four and the zero in the 420 Room. They built the base of the giant bong. They're really good at creating things with plexiglass.
JJ Walker: As we move further in the experience, we've got the harvest area. We've got these giant, seven-foot-tall buds and these photorealistic cannabis plants. Those were created out of a group from Atlanta that does a lot of movie plants.
JJ Walker: This space was built as a museum as well as an event space. We can host 700 people here. We'll have 700 people here tonight, and 700 people here tomorrow night. Obviously Vegas is a big tourism town, and convention season is coming up, so we can host very corporate, high-level parties for companies looking for an unique space in a 10,000 square foot venue.
James: The installations certainly would be conversation starters at a cocktail party.
JJ Walker: Absolutely. This is fun. There's a lot of different breakout rooms. So we've got a central area that can fit about 600 people and then the different wings that people can separate and have their private conversations or get away and relax. And the more we get going, the more I'm gonna change things in here. This is Version One right now. The idea of the space is to continuously develop and change. And it is to have different curators or artists with different ideas that we can enhance. The museum will continuously change, so what you see today will be much different six months from now.
JJ Walker: This is the grow space, where we go from seed to grow. Those are real LED lights up there to show the growing process of cannabis in these fabricated plants brought to you by Green and Gold, which is a local outfit with some really good product.
James: And unlike the Guinness people, they didn't have any problem associating with cannabis - I assume.
JJ Walker: Yeah, they're a cannabis brand. But I had a huge amount of support for the museum - not just from the cannabis industry, but a lot of mainstream businesses as well. That's the cool thing - the crossover started really coming into play.
James: Is this a shout out to 'Alice in Wonderland'?
JJ Walker: Yeah, the idea of the caterpillar is that cannabis is pest-resistant outdoors and it has a lot of pest issues inside. So it's just a play on that.
JJ Walker: Then we have the Declaration of Cannabis independence made on real Raw paper that we smoke. The sheets were layered and then put together and burnt around the edges. This is all handwritten out, about the Declaration of Cannabis Independence. It was formed January 1, 2014 when recreational cannabis hit Colorado. And here are the giant buds.
JJ Walker: These are seven feet tall buds that we call Hug-a-Buds. We have five different guys here, from our alien friend to [the strains] Strawberry Cough and Durban Poison. The idea is that you hug a bud, and you get to see them in a larger-than-life replica that is photorealistic.
JJ Walker: This is a representation of smoke, so we're gonna be incorporating fog into this room. There will be ground fog and bubble fog coming in here tonight. A famous tape artist created all this art up here. And it's just the play on getting into the consumption of cannabis after the growing of it.
JJ Walker: Here, we have an interactive installation where you're getting inhaled up the stairs, and exhaled through giant red lips and smoke rings. And below there's a pool full of fake, giant nugs that you slide into.
JJ Walker: The Clear Concentrates sponsored this installation. Here, we talk about the different terpenes that are in cannabis. These canisters have different smells capturing the base terpenes that cannabis is made up of. We talk about the different profile of terpenes, the mix of them and how they have more of an impact on the feeling you get from consuming cannabis than how much THC or CBD is in the strain.
James: This must be a shoutout to 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.'
JJ Walker: Yeah, this is Hunter S. Thompson's personal car. Johnny Depp and him were very close friends, so this car was a part of the movie. It stood in for the car that the book was written about, The Great Red Shark. Hunter's widow Anita Thompson allowed us to borrow the car for this installation, which represents the history and the people that have been involved into the process of legalization. Hunter was a big advocate, he was a part of the NORML movement since the 1970's, so we just wanted to give him a shoutout.
James: Is Anita lending you the car permanently?
JJ Walker: Maybe for a year — as of right now. Anita is turning their old home - Owl Farm in Aspen, Colorado - into a retreat for journalists. So she's lending the car to us for a year, then bringing it back so that journalists can see it. I met Anita through one of my investors. They told Anita about our museum. She came out here and really believed in the project, so she lent us the car. That was the first time that she let the car out of the garage since he passed away.
JJ Walker: This is Indica Buddha. It represents the body high, the calming effect of cannabis. This is sponsored by W Vapes. On the reverse wall, you can learn about the different strains that represent indica. And then you move into the sativa room which is heady high, clouds, uplifting energy, which is represented through this the cloud swing and the clouds leading into that.
James: So it's not just a museum; it's also trying to capture the cannabis experience.
JJ Walker: Exactly, capturing the experience. Now we walk into Ritual, which represents the different forms of consumption.
JJ Walker: So this is the PAX Life Tree, which will be involved a cool new thing we're doing that involves giving donations to war veterans.
JJ Walker: For edibles, we have this giant silicone gummy sponsored by CannAmerica.
And this installation also talks about the history and evolution of edibles. And then there's the RAW joint. We've got a little kaleidoscope in the tip so you can peek in there.
JJ Walker: Here we are at the world's largest bong. This is a functional bong. So when Nevada legalizes social consumption, our goal is to do a contest where the winner gets to be the first to hit it. I'd love to get Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson to come here together, and to celebrate this venue with key influencers, the top activists that helped push the movement. If we can get social consumption passed in Nevada, then you'll be able to smoke, hang out and actually consume cannabis as well as beer and wine here. It'll definitely be a big step for the industry.
James: What's upstairs?
JJ Walker: The top of the bong.
James: It goes all the way up? How many feet?
JJ Walker: 24 feet. We can go to the top if you want.
'This is mainstream America'
James: So how long ago did you come up with the idea for Cannabis Museum?
JJ Walker: Fourteen months, from concept to where we are today. Things came together quick thanks to my background as a dispensary owner, an event producer and creator of the first cannabis tourism company in the world.
James: Roughly how many people have been to the museum so far?
JJ Walker: It's growing every single day. We're at 100-200 people per day right now. Our goal is to get up to 1,000 people a day that walk through this space. This is our grand opening week, really, for Phase One. And we have two significant events here over the next couple of nights, with some of the top members of the industry. I'm really excited to present this and see where it goes from here. 'Cause we have Las Vegas, and our goal is to continue this into other markets around the country and around the world.
James: I bet you'll close in on that goal of 1,000 people per day real quick if Nevada legalizes social consumption. How do you feel about its chances of passing?
JJ Walker: One of the problems is dealing with the Resort Association here, which represents all the casino businesses. And since cannabis is still federally illegal, the Resort Association is against social consumption because they can't put their hands on it. Anything that they can't touch, they really fend against.
But the thing is, it's not changing. It's legal here. Dispensaries are growing in popularity, people are consuming all over the place. So the question is, "Do you just let them smoke on the street or do we actually give them places that they can consume?" And with our attraction, we can educate people, entertain them, and then draw in more tourism dollars to Las Vegas.
James: What's the best piece of feedback that you've received on the museum?
JJ Walker: It's been really cool to have late night mentions on Conan O'Brien and James Corden. And it's great to see average people come here and look at this industry and cannabis in a different way. When people come here, they don't know what to expect. They're like, "Is this a traditional artifact kind of museum? Is it built by stoners and really unorganized?" Then they go through and they're like, "Wow, that's not what I was expecting. This thing is really well put together and I really learned something." It's such an amazing feeling to see people have that experience.
James: What was the most challenging piece to work on?
JJ Walker: Everything about this project has been a significant challenge. We're pushing new boundaries, not just on the cannabis side but in the way that you fabricate an experience, the way that people go through a museum. So really everything here's been a challenge. But it's all a labor of love. I wouldn't give it up for the world. The difficulty is nothing compared to the satisfaction of standing here today and looking at our museum and knowing that I have 600 people that are gonna come and experience this and enjoy this environment tonight is so uplifting and so exciting.
James: What would you say to tourists who are curious about the museum but are on the fence about checking it out because they're worried about getting branded with cannabis stigmas?
JJ Walker: This is a very modern art museum. The whole idea of this is it does take away from stigma. You'd be hard-pressed to have somebody walk through here and feel like they should be ashamed of anything. And if they are, that's on them. But really, this is about mainstream America.
Pictures by Neil Bonner and James McClure.