(CNN) – In this city where just about everything is over the top, a 24-foot bong might establish a new, well, high.
The two-story-tall specimen of supersized drug paraphernalia is the main attraction at Cannabition, a nonconsumption cannabis-themed museum slated to open later in September at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas.
Though the museum doesn’t sell weed for guests to smoke or eat, it does celebrate the recent rise of cannabis culture in Nevada and across the country. A progression of 12 small exhibits is designed to take visitors on a zany journey that teaches about botany, chemistry, psychoactive compounds such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and stoner culture since the 1960s.
The 10,500-square-foot museum comes at a time when the cannabis tourism industry in Las Vegas is — pardon the pun — budding out. Recreational cannabis use became legal in Nevada on July 1, 2017, and since then, statistics from the state’s Department of Taxation indicate 61 licensed dispensaries have opened statewide, including 47 in Clark County (which includes the Las Vegas Valley).
This cannabis crescendo certainly is paying off for the state, which collected $69.8 million in tax revenue for the year ending July 1, 2018, 140 percent more than expected. By law, the money now will be allocated to fund state and local regulation of the industry, and what’s left will be deposited into education coffers and a general fund.
“The entire experience of legalizing marijuana has been more successful than we ever thought it would be,” says Nevada State Sen. Tick Segerblom, one of the legislators who led the push to make pot legal in the state. “This museum, this idea of crafting an experience around cannabis, takes everything to the next level.”
What makes Cannabition work so well is the way it blends education and entertainment — you’re learning while you’re there, but the place is almost too quirky and curious for you to notice.
This being Las Vegas, of course, there’s an aspect of the museum that’s endearingly superficial. Like the Museum of Ice Cream, Museum of Color and a handful of other attractions across the country, Cannabition was designed as an “immersive experience.”
For 38-year-old founder and CEO J.J. Walker, this means the entire place exists as one big backdrop for social media, replete with opportunities for “hero moments” you can share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“People travel so differently today — it’s as much about doing something as it is about having done it and getting great pictures to prove you did it,” says Walker, who opened and ran one of the first dispensaries in Colorado before moving to Las Vegas in 2015 to start the museum project.
“If we can get people in here, get them to share highlights of their experience with friends and in the process teach them something and make them more comfortable with the idea of cannabis, we’ve done our jobs.”
Touring the museum certainly is a surreal experience.
After purchasing tickets at a kiosk on Fremont Street, visitors enter a room behind Banger Brewing Company with giant digits that spell out “420,” code for marijuana smoking in progress.
From there, “Cannaguides” lead groups of 10 visitors through the first two exhibits — an “underground” room with a daybed inside a pod designed to resemble a marijuana seed and a “grow room” with 7-foot-tall buds you can hug.
Once the guides depart, visitors are left to explore on their own. In one room there’s a giant bag of weed with buds the size of bed pillows. In another, you climb up steep steps and launch yourself down a slide that whisks you through statues of human lips and smoke rings into a pool of foam nugs (for the uninitiated, these are really good buds).
An art room delves into the relationship between cannabis and creativity. A multisensory exhibit teaches about terpenes, the fragrant oils that give cannabis its range of different scents.
Then there’s the Red Shark, the 1973 Chevrolet Caprice owned by the late author (and noted cannabis aficionado) Hunter S. Thompson when he reported and wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Thompson was such a pothead he had developed his own strains of weed.
Other spaces are designed to spotlight the two major types of marijuana: Indica and Sativa. The Indica room sports a giant Buddha and warm colors — a Zen-like atmosphere for the calming and soothing highs the strain typically delivers. The Sativa room comprises cloud art and clouds you can sit on, a metaphoric reference to the uplifting and energetic highs people can get from this type of weed.
There’s even an exhibit dedicated to the ways in which people currently use cannabis. Highlights of this area include a tree swing sponsored by Pax vape pens and a giant gummy bear.
The grand finale, of course, is Bongzilla, the 24-foot bong.
The piece is made entirely of blown glass, and is smokable, provided you pack a bowl with about a quarter-pound of weed.
Though officials have no plans or permits to fill the bong’s 100-gallon reservoir and light it for the public, visitors can climb steps or take an elevator to the top and pose so it looks like they’re pulling a hit. The museum has set up a camera to capture this shot perfectly.
The rest of the museum is a work in progress. Later this fall, Walker says Cannabition will open an event space, a head shop (selling paraphernalia) and a store with products that comprise Cannabidiol, a legal cannabis compound that many experts believe to have medical benefits. Combined, the new areas will comprise roughly 3,500 square feet.
He adds that Cannabition also likely will offer free shuttles to popular dispensaries around town. One of them, the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, is open 24 hours, boasts a drive-thru and bills itself as the largest dispensary in the world.
Eventually, whenever Nevada starts to dole out social consumption licenses, Walker says the museum will reconfigure part of its space to accommodate a lounge for smoking, vaping and consuming edibles.
Until then, however, the goal remains simple: To raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of cannabis across the board.
“Even as cannabis has become more widespread, there are still so many misconceptions about it,” Walker says. “With this experience, in this amazing city, we hope to demystify them all.”
Matt Villano, CNN
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