It’s hard to get things to stick at the Neonopolis. The open-air retail and entertainment plaza has seen plenty of attractions come and go over the years in Las Vegas, including at least one nightclub, a 14-screen movie theater and a drag queen bowling alley. Funny, since the location couldn’t be more perfect—on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block pedestrian mall that serves as the tourist hub of Downtown.
Even its cheap underground parking garage doesn’t get the traffic it should. But while it never appears to be fully leased out, the Neonopolis has its share of success stories, like local beermakers Banger Brewing, a Denny’s that comes with its own wedding chapel, and a vintage toy shop familiar to regular viewers of Pawn Stars.
However, a new tenant hopes to fully inhale the untapped potential of the Neonopolis. Cannabition bills itself as a first-of-its-kind art museum based on the journey of cannabis “from seed to celebration.”
“We’re stepping into new territory,” says founder J.J. Walker. “We’re called a cannabis museum, but we’re really an attraction.”
Color and Charisma at Cannabition
After a few minor delays, Cannabition is now open to the public. It’s a colorful and imaginative spot, but it may also be a victim of its own hype and expectations. Guests take a self-guided tour from room to room with “canna-guides” standing by to weigh in with information on the exhibits or help snap a photo. The team says it takes about 45 minutes to do the whole thing, but you can easily see everything in 30 minutes—or even less if you’re not the type to linger around.
As Walker suggests, Cannabition plays fast and loose with the “museum” identity. It’s not a stoner Smithsonian. The space takes inspiration from social media-oriented pop-ups around the country like the Museum of Ice Cream, Dream Machine, and the Color Factory. It’s a place where a good pic is valued over information and historic artifacts.
“The lighting is designed for creating an environment, but we also have areas we call ‘hero moments’ in each installation,” says Walker. “We’ll light up your face correctly so you get this really cool photo.”Order cannabis ahead of time at these Las Vegas dispensaries!Instagrammable exhibits include a larger-than-life hemp seed that opens up into a bed, “huggable” marijuana buds that stand at least seven-feet tall, and a slide that’s “exhaled” through a giant pair of lips and circular clouds of smoke. Stand next to a massive baggie of weed or place your head inside towering vape pens to inhale a rotating selection of terpenes. If this seems like the kind of thing that’s better when you’re high, you’re probably right.
The idea was hatched 14 months ago when Walker sold his Colorado bus tour company, My 420 Tours, and spent eight months finding the right location in Las Vegas. He’s still getting all the pieces in place and views Cannabition as an evolving entity that could look quite a bit different a year from now, stressing a desire to add a bar, audio elements, and further educational components.
As for now, you won’t find much in the way of historic artifacts. The obvious exception is the Red Shark, a famous 1972 Chevy Caprice onced owned by Hunter S. Thompson, complete with what appear to be authentic nicotine stains on the leather seats. On loan from the writer’s estate for at least six months, even this particular exhibit comes with an asterisk. The car isn’t the exact vehicle documented in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — that one was a rental — but it was featured in the film version of the book.
The exhibit that's getting the most attention is the 24-foot-tall Bongzilla, which is billed as the largest bong in the world.
Created by 15 people in four days, Bongzilla holds 70 gallons of water and half-a-pound of cannabis. It actually works, but guests aren’t allowed to take a real hit until public consumption laws are sorted out in Vegas. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, although stretching between two levels, it’s so large you’ll either get a clear photo of the bong itself or your friend pretending to smoke it while hanging over the second-story railing. It’s hard to get a good shot of both.
Many of the exhibits are sponsored, mixing both informational and promotional material. W Vapes, for example, has an area dedicated to the differences between sativa and indica strains. While you’re sorting it all out, sit in the lap of a giant enlightened Buddha or dangle from a swing that hangs from a cloud-filled sky. Take notes. It’s both fun and educational while serving as an inventive example of experiential advertising.
Mixing History, Art, and Innovation
“The cannabis industry has limited options in how to market their brands; you can’t buy Google ads or Facebook ads,” says Walker. “As thousands of people come through and Instagram their picture, it creates a different type of relationship with the brand.”
Full disclosure: Leafly is attached to an exhibit where the “periodic table” of cannabis strain tiles is front and center. In addition, visitors can learn about Pax with either a colorful neon tree installation or an engraving machine in the gift shop that sells the company’s vaporizers. The retail area also offers t-shirts and CBD-only products, including edibles, lotions and pet treats.
The exterior of Cannabition is wrapped in a 170-foot-long mural by artist Gear Duran and partner Heather Hermann. The painting is so large and magnificent, you might overlook its expansive yet intricate detail. The mural traces a timeline of cannabis through history, from its use in early Asian culture and the role of hemp in the founding of the United States to how marijuana was more acceptable than booze during Prohibition, but became vilified during Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” 80s. The artwork provides a much-needed glimpse into the complicated history of cannabis that’s missing indoors. It would be worth having a tour guide step outside every now and then to share a few details about it.
Cannabition also has ridiculous potential as a private reception space, whether it's for a wedding that doesn't take itself too seriously, or in connection to the many cannabis-related trade shows that pass through town.
The admission fee of $24.20 — “420” had to be worked into the price somehow — might seem a bit steep for what you get within the 9,000-square-foot space. However, Cannabition plans to integrate a consumption lounge, in one form or another, when the local laws allow it. Once that happens, its value as an attraction will significantly increase. Cannabition also has ridiculous potential as a private reception space, whether it’s for a wedding that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or in connection to the many cannabis-related trade shows that pass through town. “MJBizCon is this November and we’re expecting to sell out all three nights with some pretty big buyouts,” says Walker.
Otherwise, the success of the place could depend on how badly millennials want to take a selfie. Pull out your phone, turn on the camera, and ask yourself — have you hugged a marijuana bud today?