Kudos to the Museum of Sonoma County for this summer’s bonanza marijuana exhibit. It’s called “Grass Roots” and it’s subtitled “From Prohibition to Prescription.”

Jonah Raskin

Jonah Raskin 

It opens June 15, runs until Sept. 15 and is supported by two dispensaries, Mercy Wellness and the Sonoma Patient Group, as well as Lagunitas Brewing Company, Rogoway Law Group and two cannabis manufacturing companies, Cannacraft and Fiddler’s Greens.

Eric Stanley, who has an master’s degree in history from Sonoma State University, is the co-curator of the exhibit, along with Brian Applegarth, who graduated from UC Irvine and who aims to promote pot tourism and to educate northern Californians about the pot past and the pot present.

“The exhibit is a feather in the cap of the museum,” Applegarth said. “There’s a lot of important cannabis history in Sonoma County.”

I’ve known Applegarth for a year or so, and have listened to many of his tales about cannabis pioneers like Pebbles Trippet and Mary Jane Rathbun, better known as “Brownie Mary” because she delivered baked goods with cannabis to AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

From my perspective, the cannabis past is a mixed bag of villains, rebels, idealists, farmers, cops and some truth tellers. We’ve all stumbled together to the strange and wonderful place we now occupy. If there are heroes, they’re deeply flawed.

Three years ago, in 2016, the Oakland Museum of California hosted a cannabis exhibit, just prior to the passage of Proposition 64, that legalized recreational marijuana for anyone 21 years old or over.

The Oakland exhibit was organized around three pivotal questions about cannabis that were meant to provoke conversations and discussions: Sacred plant or cash crop? Simple seed or evil weed? and Creative edge or slippery slope?

Those questions suggest that it’s one or the other, rather than both. In fact, for some, cannabis is both a sacred plant and a money-making crop, a spur to creativity and also a substance that can create a dependency.

Simple seed and evil weed is a cute rhyme, but hardly anyone these days regards marijuana as “evil.” In my eyes, all plants are sacred and so is life, itself.

That perspective, which isn’t original with me, would probably be endorsed by Alexander Carpenter — alexander.carpenter@icloud.com — who leads the Sonoma County Cultivation Group (SCCG), and the Green Market Exchange (GME).

Recently, Carpenter told me that “Cannabis is an entheogen that connects us to God.” Readers of this newspaper who want to hear his views on subjects such as “sharing cannabis,” “enriching consciousness” and what he calls the “control fraud racket” can attend the weekly Tuesday night meetings at 6741 Sebastopol Ave. in Sebastopol that he facilitates. The meetings are free and open to the public. The discussions, which I have occasionally attended, can be lively. They also provide an opportunity to meet west county cannabis cultivators and exchange information and agricultural products.

Two comprehensive documents and a flyer by Carpenter — with the headline “Grow Six Big Ones” — are available to anyone who shows up on Tuesdays at 6741 Sebastopol Ave. The compact flyer explains that cannabis is “a wellness therapy, a medicine, a sacrament” and can also be “just for fun,” though Carpenter hopes that users and consumers get beyond the giggles stage.

Sonoma County District One Supervisor Susan Gorin doesn’t grow marijuana or use it and hasn't ever enjoyed the giggles stage.

“I am not a fan of cannabis,” she recently told a group of cannabis cultivators and enthusiasts at HopMonk in the town of Sonoma. Gorin added that members of her own family who use cannabis have to drive to Cotati to buy it at a dispensary. She called that fact “an accessibility issue.” 

Gorin reminded listeners who might have forgotten, “We live in a democracy.” She also depicted the dark side of cannabis.

“We have had violence, trespass, environmental destruction and an unregulated market,” she said.

Those topics will not be emphasized at the Museum of Sonoma County. On the whole, that’s a good thing, though I hope that the dark past won’t be entirely whitewashed.

The 2016 Oakland cannabis exhibit was effective in part because it was interactive. Visitors were encouraged to put on gloves and touch real marijuana plants and to smell the scents from several different strains of marijuana. They were also directed to a booth, called a “cannabis confessional,” where they would remain anonymous and share their “personal experiences with pot.”

Hopefully, the exhibit at the Museum of Sonoma County will draw people out, encourage them to speak frankly, and to be honest with one another and themselves.

On Friday June 26, I’ll be at the museum starting at 6:30 p.m., and at 7 p.m. in conversation with SSU Professor Liz Thach, a world-renowned expert on wine, to talk about my new murder mystery, “Dark Day, Dark Night.” It’s yet another opportunity for words about wine and weed to mix and mingle and perhaps for wisdom to emerge.

Jonah Raskin, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University, is the author most recently of “Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery” and the non-fiction book Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.

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