Las Vegas’ new marijuana museum features ‘Bongzilla,’ world’s largest bong
The museum celebrating all things cannabis with displays that include a glass bong taller than a giraffe and huggable faux marijuana buds is the newest tourist attraction in Las Vegas (Photo: AP)
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A glass bong taller than a giraffe. Huggable faux marijuana buds. A pool full of foam weed nuggets.
Las Vegas’ newest attraction — and Instagram backdrop — is a museum celebrating all things cannabis.
Nobody will be allowed to light up at Cannabition when it opens Thursday because of a Nevada ban on public consumption of marijuana, but visitors can learn about the drug as they snap photos.
It’s a made-for-social-media museum where every exhibit has lights meant to ensure people take selfies worthy of the no-filter hashtag.
The facility — whose founder says has a goal of destigmatizing marijuana use — will likely land among the talking points officials and others use to try to draw gambling-resistant millennials to Sin City.
It will welcome its first visitors almost 15 months after adults in Nevada began buying recreational marijuana legally, with sales far exceeding state projections.
“Our goal when people come out of this is that they don’t fear the cannabis industry if they are not believers in the industry,” founder J.J. Walker told The Associated Press. “Cannabition is not about just serving people that like marijuana, it’s about serving the masses that want to learn about cannabis and or just have fun and go do a cool art experience.”
People walk by the Cannabition cannabis museum in Las Vegas. (Photo: AP)
Guests will wander through 12 installations with rooms like “seed,” where people can lie down in a bed shaped like a marijuana seed, and “grow,” which features artificial plants in sizes ranging from inches to feet tall placed under bright lights to represent an indoor cannabis grow facility.
Photo ops are also available under a glow-in-the-dark tree, next to a giant marijuana leaf meant to represent an edible gummy and by a 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) glass bong that’s dubbed “Bongzilla” and billed as the world’s largest.
There is a space with taller-than-you faux buds representing different strains and another room with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s famous “Red Shark” Chevrolet Caprice.
This museum in Las Vegas’ downtown entertainment district is not the Smithsonian of marijuana, but it has some educational components. Guests get an introduction from museum guides and some graphics on walls explain how concentrates are made and the differences between indica and sativa cannabis strains.
Museums always evolve with the times to remain relevant, and audience engagement is an important goal for the facilities today, said Gwen Chanzit, director of museum studies in art history at the University of Denver. For those who remember very traditional, no-photography-allowed museums, she said, “that ship has sailed.”
“Once cellphones became ubiquitous, the culture of museum visiting changed,” Chanzit said.
Many of the facility’s exhibits are sponsored by cannabis companies, with their logos prominently displayed. It is common for museums to receive the support of corporations and to place their logo on a wall.
Only adults 21 and older will be allowed at Cannabition. The tour is designed to last up to an hour.
Walker, the founder, has invited reality TV stars, models and other influencers to Las Vegas for the weekend with the charge of spreading the word about the facility.
As for those who buy a ticket but their Instagram followers are only in the dozens or hundreds, Walker said, “you’re still an influencer to your friends.”Las Vegas' newest attraction — and Instagram backdrop — is a museum celebrating all things cannabis.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Creation of the World’s Largest Bong
If you’ve decided to go about creating the world’s largest bong, Seattle is an obvious fit for a construction site.
Work on said bong—which, when completed, will stand 24 feet tall and weigh 800 pounds—began this past weekend as part of the city’s 4/20 celebrations. The brainchild of Jason Harris and a handful of other renowned glassblowing artists, it will eventually be transported in pieces to Las Vegas, where it will be one of the attractions at Cannibition, an “immersive cannabis museum” that’s set to open this summer.
But though Las Vegas (and the rest of Nevada) has had legal weed for the past six months, it doesn’t have what Seattle has: The Pacific Northwest city isn’t just home to a thriving cannabis culture, it’s also what Harris described as the birthplace of the American glassblowing movement.
Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, whose museum sits at the base of the Space Needle, is the figure who brought artistic glassblowing in the mainstream. His work has given rise to a collaborative glassblowing scene and a regional landscape dotted by schools and studios. Harris himself spent years at the Pilchuck glass school up in the northern suburb of Stanwood.
“This all started in Seattle,” Harris said. “Seattle is the main hub. From that one person (Chihuly), it kind of flourished to thousands of people blowing glass… It’s kind of a cultish subculture inside Seattle. It’s a rougher, Seattle look, and feel and smell.”
A massive glass bong isn’t just a manifestation of legal weed conquering the country (or at least most of the American West), it’s a technical challenge that requires 15 experienced artists working in tandem. There is something like a synchronized dance in their movement—they work mostly in concentrated silence but all know their roles, subtly shifting into exactly the right place in their own rhythms.
Working with glass as a medium requires extreme heat that turns it into a malleable material, a kind of liquid clay. (The ovens used by the team top out at 1,900 and 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.) At those extreme, Harris told me, reaching a metal rod into the liquid inside is like “dipping into honey.”
Heat elongates the shape, so one artist goes to work with a blowtorch while others are stationed at the metal clasps on either end. Additional specialists blow into the mold to stretch it out further; once completed, sections of the future bong are carefully placed onto wet newspaper to cool and harden. The process really is mesmerizing, brilliant flashes of crimson flame and drippy gobs of glass.
“By showing the public how we create the things, it’s such magic,” Harris said. “People have never seen anything like it before. They just get drawn in.”
(For those out East who want to see this in action: Most of this crew is doing a similar exhibition in Brooklyn the third weekend of June.)
Harris has a colorful backstory, as you might expect from the guy who spent a four-day weekend overseeing the construction of a massive bong. Back in his 20s, he estimates he was selling $4 million in glass bongs per year. He had 70 employees, three product warehouses, “the BMW, the house on the hill, and plenty of payments. Then I got shut down, big time.”
In 2003, he was one of dozens of people—including Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame—were swept up by the feds in a sting operation known as Operation Pipe Dreams, which targeted the creators and distributors of paraphernalia.
“The whole time we were doing it, we knew it was not legal to make a pipe to smoke marijuana,” Harris admitted. “We put on there that it was for tobacco use only. But reality is, that’s acknowledging that they can be used for something else. There were a lot of busts in head shops. It was still shocking the day it happened.”
Unlike Chong, who was eventually sentenced to nine months, Harris did not serve any prison time but his assets were seized. He moved to Maui and set up a studio making glass art for tourists. He was able to make a stable living, re-establishing himself on solid (and wholly legit) ground. In the back of his mind, though, remained an old and familiar itch. Sensing a shift in public opinion on marijuana toward the beginning of this decade, he again began to dabble in bong making.
“I just really enjoy the shape of the bong,” Harris said. “I enjoy what it means to humans, to change and inspire thought, or to relax you, or whatever it is cannabis does for you. I believe that bong is a tool to make that happen.”
That said, he emphasized that he wasn’t going into any legal gray areas anymore. “In my mind, I’m thinking of the frog in a frying pan thing. Yeah, I’m putting my hand on the frying pan to see if it’s hot right now,” he said. “I try to stay within all perimeters of whatever state I’m in.”
The patchwork of state cannabis laws is another reason why the bong has to be built in Washington and Nevada, where he maintains a full-time studio.
“I think the laws all need to be clarified,” Harris said. “Right now, with all of the legalization in different states, traveling in airports, there is a lot of gray area with this whole subject. I think it’s part of the intrigue, but it’s also part of the problem. I don’t like seeing people get arrested for making pipes out of glass. It’s been a challenge for my whole life… Every day I deal with some little obstacle because I chose to make a bong out of that glass instead of making a fine wine glass.
“What we have here is a statement, about the state of the laws right now,” he went on. “I make giant bongs as a representation of art, to show this metaphor.”
OK, but can you use this particular representation to actually get stoned? Is the bong meant to be functional? Harris broke into a mischievous grin. It was still early in the process, but that was the plan. Make the parts in Seattle, cut and polish them. Then ship them to Vegas on the truck, where it will be installed, hopefully by July 1, along with a stairway leading to the top of it.
“And then,” Harris said, “we’re going to have some parties out there and see if we can hit this bad boy.”
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Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, and ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter.
See more of Lindsey Wasson’s photos on her Instagram and website.
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By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.When the bong is finished and on display at a new Las Vegas weed museum, it will be 24 feet tall and weigh 800 pounds. ]]>