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The Bakken Museum's medicinal garden keeps an empty display for cannabis

Internet commenters have speculated about the museum "throwing shade" at Minnesota's medical marijuana laws.

Internet commenters have speculated about the museum "throwing shade" at Minnesota's medical marijuana laws. The Bakken Museum

The Bakken Museum’s medicinal garden in Minneapolis is full of plants that cure what ails us.

There’s lemon balm for indigestion, comfrey for aches, and pink lady slipper for nerves and spasms, each paired with signs explaining their various uses throughout history. But there is one plant box that remains conspicuously empty. The sign alongside it reads, in bold letters: “Cannabis.”

At face value, it would make perfect sense to include cannabis in a medicinal garden. As the sign explains, it’s been used for thousands of years all over the world, and it has a very real affect on appetite, pain, immunity, and memory. But it would be impossible to have a plot of cannabis just growing in an educational garden, as the signage is quick to explain.

“Beginning in the early 1900s, changing political agendas and societal, religious, and social perceptions about its mood-altering effects led to state and federal restrictions on the cannabis plant,” it reads. By 1970, cannabis was deemed a drug with no acceptable medical use and all but forbidden in the U.S.

Of course, some things have changed since then. In 2014, Minnesota joined other states in legalizing medical marijuana, so now – with a limited number of producers and under strict guidelines by the Minnesota Department of Health – it can be used to manage post-traumatic stress or stoke appetites deadened by cancer treatments.

The Bakken's empty planter has been in the garden as a sort of placeholder for medical marijuana since 2017, museum communications director Laura Whittet says. But lately, photos of the box and the sign have been circulating around Reddit along with speculation that the Bakken was “throwing shade” at what they call “this crumby [sic] state's” “stupid cannabis laws.”

“If I were to have a specimen that is about an inch tall and absolutely adorable to donate (not saying I do),” one commenter speculated, “Do ya think they’d take it?”

Whittet says “throwing shade” wasn’t the point.

“The Bakken Museum is really about conversations,” she says. “We want people to ask questions.”

And if the empty box sparks conversations like these online, she says, good – but the Bakken “is not taking a stance” on marijuana and whether it should be legal or why it “is or isn’t available” to certain populations.

The Bakken started as a museum of magnetism and electricity, but it calls itself a “museum of innovation” now. It’s all about future potential and new ideas. This year, a sizable grassroots campaign to legalize recreational marijuana stumbled into the state’s legislative session, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle refusing to consider the idea. But there’s always next year, and the year after that.

Someday, the Bakken’s box may not be empty at all.