Seed dispensary, Core museum rooted in the pursuit of justice
Before you can enter Seed’s bright orange front doors, you must show your ID to Sam Rabriguez, the dispensary’s janitor who is sitting on a stool under an umbrella. If you are over 21, you can enter.
You will follow the metal stairs to a large room with sleek silver floors and brightly colored lights. To the right is a floor-to-ceiling mural of pink and red and blue and green. Reggae music plays softly in the background.
Seed and Core are part of a marijuana dispensary and social justice museum located in Jamaica Plain. The venture is the first of its kind in Massachusetts – a museum dedicated to educating the community about the impact of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs.
“We have this juxtaposition of the hypocrisy of incarceration in America right next to legal cannabis for sale,” said April Arrasate, CEO, founder and owner of the company.
Opening their business nearly a year ago in March 2021, Arrasate and his team wanted to draw attention to the benefits of cannabis use, while simultaneously educating buyers about its dark history in America.
Since 2012, when Colorado became the first state to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis, the national toll has been rapid.
Today, 80% of states have at least decriminalized cannabis, and some cities in the 10 states where the drug is completely illegal are moving towards decriminalize this. More, federal decriminalization could be on point.
Yet the impacts of the War on Drugs are still visible today, even in local neighborhoods.
According to the team’s research, 1 in 3 black men born after 2001 end up in prison for marijuana-related crimes, along with 1 in 6 Latino men and 1 in 17 white men – despite the fact that marijuana use cannabis is similar across ethnicities.
Now that the drug has been legal in Massachusetts since 2016 and local stores are popping up across the state, the Arrasate store and museum pays homage to the strides made over the past decade that allowed them to open their store first.
After browsing the exhibits, one of the vendors – they’re not called budtenders here like in most stores – will help you browse the hundreds of cannabis flower varieties. Or, perhaps, cannabis-infused dark chocolate bars or boxes of cannabis-infused mints.
In the center of the space is a 6ft by 9ft replica of a prison cell – the same size that cannabis users could be locked in if arrested before legalization. The barred cell doors are from an old Belmont jail.
On a screen, Niambe Tosh, a member of the museum’s Curatorial Board and daughter of reggae singer Peter Tosh, tells the tragic story of the loss of her older brother Jawara in the war on drugs.
“The jail cell is a reminder of how people still go there,” said Tomas Gonzalez, the company’s chief of staff who grew up in the neighborhood.
Behind the jail cell is a large circle mounted on the wall, full of confiscated cannabis paraphernalia from local jails. Bongs, pipes, grinders, rolling papers, ashtrays and lighters – all used before – are attached to the wheel: a symbol of the iconic “puff, puff, pass” ritual of a common circle. He represents a “culture unified by paraphernalia”, as Gonzalez put it.
On the other side of the space is a wall lined with six large perfume spray bottles. Inside each bottle are extracts of one of the six most important cannabis terpenes – the compound in the plant that gives it its distinct smell.
As you press the pump and inhale, natural scents with hints of lemon, pine, or lavender act like aromatherapy and educate the public about the science-based natural compounds found in the medicine.
Discover the benefits of cannabis
When Arrasate’s mother died of breast cancer in 2011, she realized how beneficial cannabis could be for patients.
In honor of her mother’s passing, she quit her law practice in 2014 and started Cure Leaf, a medical cannabis company in Connecticut. The constitutional state legalized medical marijuana in 2012 but legalized recreational use in July 2021.
“I was just a grieving girl looking to turn my legal practice into some kind of patient advocacy,” she said.
She hired her brother and sister, and the store was a success. She finally sold the company a few years later, and still remains a shareholder.
“The reason I feel like it was successful and it worked so well is because I was driven by a mission,” she said. “And everyone around me was too. Everyone understood that we were there for a very real reason.
Once the drug became legal in Massachusetts, she saw another opportunity. She assembled a team – Gonzalez, who grew up in the Jamaica Plain area, and Peri Higgins, a longtime business consultant who wanted to break into the cannabis industry.
They received their Host Community Agreement, the approval they needed from the city to open, in 2019.
The space was previously The Milky Way Bar – a longtime neighborhood staple.
One of the first times Arrasate descended the stairs into the empty space, she noticed two large pillars in the middle of the room that were too close together. She stood there for a while, grabbed a piece of chalk, and started drawing a 6-by-8-foot square on the floor.
“And then I said, ‘I want a replica prison cell here,'” she said.
Thus, the idea of the museum, in addition to the shop, was born. They created a group of community leaders and locals affected by Prohibition that would become the Museum Preservation Council, the group that proposes and creates new exhibits. They have partnered with members of the MFA to ensure an authentic and effective museum experience.
The surrounding neighborhood is a major component of the store’s identity. The company has over 100 investors, 82% of whom live in the local community while 81% are people of color. Many investors grew up in the area with Gonzalez. The company is 72% owned by women. Collectively, the members of the company have spent more than 10 years incarcerated because of the war on drugs.
“It was important for us to be able to provide opportunities for people who would not typically be able to invest in a cannabis business,” said Higgins, the company’s chief financial officer.
The team received its provisional license, which allows it to prepare to operate the business, in March 2020, and just over a year later, in the midst of a pandemic, it finally opened its doors.
Now community members can buy cannabis, learn about its troubled past, and learn about the science behind the drug all in one place.
“Here is a very complex issue, related to incarceration, power, control and money,” Arrasate said. “And I have to boil it down to something impactful enough for you to remember and explore further.”
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com