Travel

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

Plan yourself a pot pilgrimage.

Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio
Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio
Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio

The first thing you see upon entering the Core Social Justice Cannabis Museum in Boston is a digital stained glass window stamped with the word “Cannfessional.” Behind it sits a small sound booth wrapped in cloud-print wallpaper, with a glowing neon chair and a microphone hanging from the ceiling. Facing the chair on the wall is a TV with a camera mounted on top. This is the place for speaking your truth.

The museum’s Cannfessional encourages participants to record themselves telling stories of cannabis use, prompting dialogue 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 cannabis usage-from recreational to medical 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 a copy of your video is sent to you.

The purpose of the Cannfessional mirrors most of the museums on this list: to normalize cannabis use, be it by placing it in the context of history, showing how drug laws have disproportionately affected minority communities, illustrating its social proliferation, promoting its benefits, or simply keeping it in the public conversation. 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).

Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio
Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio
Art Velasquez at Imagix Studio

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’s Bush’s infamous War on Drugs.

But the tides started to turn back in THC’s favour 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 one 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 neighbourhood 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 marijuana. 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.

MJ Mansion Denver
MJ Mansion Denver
MJ Mansion Denver

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. But now there’s also the Marijuana Mansion. Opened in 2021 in a landmarked 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 honour 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.

Cannabis Museum
Cannabis Museum
Cannabis Museum

Cannabis Museum

Ohio/Virtual
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 Hamilton, Beetlejuice, and Immersive Van Gogh.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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