In Jamaica Plain, a pre-rolled cannabis dispensary and museum in one

The cutouts are part of the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum, located in the same basement as the dispensary, both of which are nearing their one year anniversary.

A wall of life-size cutouts at the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum depicting the likelihood of incarceration for men of different races in the United States. Nearby, a text explains how racial disparities also exist specifically in marijuana-related arrests.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The contrast between the dispensary and the museum is striking. On one side: a line of cashiers and a display of marijuana products for sale, emblematic of the burgeoning multi-billion dollar industry that marijuana has become. The other: a projected video of a drug raid, a collage of snaps of famous musicians arrested for possession of marijuana, and a replica of a prison cell.

This dissonance is the essence of the museum, said April Arrasate, CEO of Seed and the museum’s executive director, in an interview with the Globe.

“As a lawyer and someone with a pharmaceutical background, I was really interested in telling the story of the hypocrisy and the real problems associated with drug policy in America,” said Arrasate, who worked in biotechnology before becoming a civilian. litigant. “I sometimes lose sight of the dispensary because I am so passionate about the museum.”

The current exhibit, “American Warden”, was assembled and approved by a majority BIPOC, conservation council composed of five members with a range of experiences in the field of social justice. One member, Kaia Stern, director and co-founder of the Prison Studies Project at Harvard Universitysaid it was crucial to recognize “the disproportionate impacts of this so-called war on drugs” now that dispensaries are offering customers a legal way to buy marijuana.

“It is important to consider the ways in which the criminalization of [cannabis] impacted people, especially those most vulnerable to mass criminalization,” Stern said.

Massachusetts legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November 2016. But in 2018, 312 people were arrested for possession of marijuana in the state, according to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Unionand the blacks were about four times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people in Massachusetts, a figure that is slightly higher than the national average. The state’s Cannabis Control Commission recognizes the disproportionate impact that marijuana prohibition and enforcement has had on communities of color, and aims to help remedy the problem by providing technical training and a process accelerated licensing to applicants who qualify for one of its “equity programs.”

Before it opens Seed, Arrasate co-founded medical marijuana maker Curaleaf in Simbury, Connecticut, and formed the Medical Marijuana Committee of the Connecticut Bar Association. In 2008, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (she died in 2011) and Arrasate learned more about the benefits of medical marijuana.

Creating Seed and the museum, she set out to shed light on marijuana’s complicated recent past in the context of its legalized present — and visitors are responding. “Weed is very controversial and doesn’t have a great history in the United States,” said Maxcy Grasso, a Northeastern University student who browsed the museum after picking up a sativa hybrid one recent afternoon. “I think it’s really important to learn more about this story and not just use it out of ignorance.”

A replica prison cell inside the Core Cannabis Social Justice Museum in Jamaica Plain. Inside the cell, a video of Niambe McIntosh talking about her brother Jawara plays on loop.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

On a video loop inside the prison cell, fellow conservation board member Niambe McIntosh – daughter of the late reggae musician and legalization campaigner Peter Tosh – tells the story of her brother Jawara McIntosh . In 2013, Jawara, a follower of Rastafarianism, was arrested in New Jersey for possession of marijuana. He later entered into a plea deal and surrendered. The father of four children was brutally beaten by a fellow prisoner in 2017, ultimately die of his injuries in 2020. New Jersey is now one of 18 states, plus Washington DC, where recreational marijuana is legal.

“When people are arrested for cannabis or incarcerated, it’s not just individuals that are affected — it’s families, it’s communities that are torn apart,” McIntosh, who lives in Quincy, said in an interview with the World. “We just wanted to make sure his story lives on and let people know that legalization is urgently needed.”

Across the street from the jail cell is a display of pipes, lighters, and a can of Campbell’s soup; The text explains that such paraphernalia can always be “a bridge allowing law enforcement to pursue an additional investigation”.

Arrasate also wanted to show its unifying potential. “If you recognize the paraphernalia, you can cross those cultural boundaries,” she said.

The museum also crosses borders, mixing the history of cannabis with elements of pop culture. Using a tablet, visitors can suggest songs to play on the hanging speakers. “It’s like this ever-changing cannabis-themed playlist,” Arrasate said. On a Tuesday night, the Brazilian funk song “Bum Bum Tam Tam” played through the space as trippy multicolored lights danced across the walls. There’s also a “cann-fessional booth,” where visitors can record themselves telling a story about an experience they’ve had with marijuana, next to a living mural by the artist from the Connecticut Corey Pane.

A “cann-professional” booth inside the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum where visitors can record a marijuana-related story. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
A mural by Connecticut artist Corey Pane inside the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum in Jamaica Plain. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Arrasate said she plans to mount new exhibits every 12 to 18 months, but there are two permanent exhibits. One is a “terpene wall”, where people can smell a variety of aromatic compounds found in cannabis. The other is a stand-alone shed-like structure that represents black market space used to grow marijuana.

In March 2020, Arrasate and the curatorial council met for the first time at an event at the Museum of Fine Arts. There, Arrasate said, a curator gave advice on reaching visitors who has remained with her ever since.

“You have to give them enough to plant a seed,” Arrasate recalls, “and maybe later it will turn into something good.”

Executive Director April Arrasate toured the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum in Jamaica Plain last month.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Dana Gerber can be contacted at [email protected]

About Bobby F. Lopez

Check Also

Mattatuck Museum Announces Summer Art Exhibits

WATERBURY — The Mattatuck Museum announces three new summer exhibitions. Shipwrecks: Duty of Memory and …