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High Times

 The Sisters of Cannabis

Self-proclaimed Nuns Fervently Fight for their Right to Grow Cannabis

The Sisters of the Valley’s “abbey” is a modest three-bedroom house on the outskirts of Merced, in a cul-de-sac next to the railroad tracks. (Sister Kate calls the frequent noise from passing trains “part of our penance”.) When visitors come to the door, Sister Kate asks them to wait outside until she can “sage” them with the smoke from a piece of wood from a Russian tree given to her by a shaman.

Sister Kate lives here with her “second sister”, Sister Darcy, and her youngest son.

But these aren’t your average nuns. The women grow marijuana in the garage, produce cannabidiol tinctures and salves in crockpots in the kitchen, and sell the merchandise through an Etsy store. (Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the active ingredients in marijuana that is prized for medicinal qualities and is not psychoactive.) The women perform their tasks wearing long denim skirts, white collared shirts and nun’s habits. And while their “order” is small – last week they ordained their third member, a marijuana grower in Mendocino County known as Sister Rose – they share the same dream as many California startup founders: scaling.

The sisters say they are in touch with women in New Jersey and Washington state who may be interested in joining up. “They’re out buying jean skirts and white blouses,” said Sister Kate. “We want there to be women in every city selling medicine.”

But their ambitions have been thwarted by legislation that was passed last year – 19 years after medical marijuana was first legalized in the state – to regulate the billion-dollar industry through the Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act. An error in the final text of the law has resulted in scores of cities across the state passing local bans on the cultivation, distribution, and sale of the drug, including Merced, a small city in California’s Central Valley where the Sisters live.

The legislation accidentally established a 1 March 2016 deadline for cities to impose their own bans or regulations on medical marijuana or be subject to state rules, a deadline that assembly member Jim Wood, who authored that section of the bill, said was included by complete accident.

Wood has drafted fix-it legislation, which he’s optimistic will pass in the legislature by the end of next week and be signed by the governor immediately after. But it is too late for the Sisters of the Valley.

“If it was a typo, that’s great. If it wasn’t, who knows,” said John M Bramble, the city manager of Merced, the morning after Merced’s city council passed its medical marijuana ban. Either way, “it’s too late,” he said. “We’re banning it for now because if we don’t, we’ll have no local control.”

That leaves the Sisters of the Valley in a precarious position. “We are completely illegal, banned through commerce and banned through growing,” said Sister Kate. “They made criminals out of us overnight.”

Despite Sister Kate’s Catholic upbringing, the Sisters “are not affiliated with any traditional earthly religion”. The order’s principles are a potent blend of new age spirituality (they time their harvests and medicine making to the cycles of the moon, and pray while they cook to “infuse healing and intent to our medicine”), environmentalism (“We think the plant is divine the way Mother Earth gave it to us”), progressive politics (asked whether she’s offended if someone drops her title and calls her “Kate”, Sister Kate responds: “It’s offensive that no banksters went to jail”), feminism (“Women can change this industry and make it a healing industry instead of a stoner industry”), and savvy business practices.

Just having a break here ...

Just having a break here …

The pair starts every day with several hours of “Bible time”, their term for attending to all the correspondence that comes their way via email, Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The recent media attention they’ve received has resulted in a surge of orders and messaging that left Sister Darcy three or four days behind on her email in late December. “That’s a cardinal sin in our world,” Sister Kate joked.

It would be easy to dismiss the Sisters’ religious trappings as a marketing gimmick, and they certainly have not been shy when it comes to the press (according to Sister Kate, there are two film production companies interested in their story, but she only wants to participate if there’s a way the project can help Bernie Sanders win the presidential election). But the women seem sincere in their belief in the healing properties of CBD and their desire to help the ailing.

Meeusen, who is 55, got into the marijuana industry after a bad divorce. After 10 years living in Amsterdam and working as a financial consultant, she returned to the US with three kids and little money in 2008, just as the financial crisis was kicking off. Her brother persuaded her to move to the Central Valley with him and start a medical marijuana business. After using marijuana to help her nephew recover from a heroin addiction, Meeusen was a believer. The family started a successful enough medical marijuana business to survive, and Sister Kate settled into the Merced activist community.

On a Saturday morning in California's sundrenched central valley, Sisters of the Valley are busy at work.

On a Saturday morning in California’s sundrenched central valley, Sisters of the Valley are busy at work.

Meeusen began dressing like a nun in November 2011, during the height of the Occupy movement. Outraged with news reports that the US Congress had decided to classify pizza as a vegetable, she decided, “If pizza was a vegetable, I was a nun. So I put on a nun outfit and started going out to protests, and the movement dubbed me Sister Occupy.”

Sister Kate says that she never wanted to fool people into thinking she was a “real” nun, but she enjoyed the way that her habit changed how people interacted with her, seeking her out and telling her their troubles. When she had a falling out with her brother – she says she caught him selling their product on the black market, and he kicked her out of their home, leaving her semi-homeless for four months – she came up with the idea of a sisterhood of therapy plants.

Sister Kate was looking for a “second sister” when a mutual friend arranged a phone call with Darcy Johnson. After just a thirty minute conversation, the 24-year-old from Washington state was ready to move to Merced and join the order. Sister Darcy had spent time in New Zealand working on an organic farm, and now, back in the States, was looking for a better way of life.

“This is my better,” Sister Darcy said.

The day after Merced’s ban on medical marijuana was passed, the sisters were preparing for battle. Sister Kate is planning to start a call-in campaigns across the Central Valley, urging growers and customers to flood city council members with phone calls every Friday until they come up with reasonable regulations.

Whatever happens, though, the Sisters of the Valley are answering to a higher authority. “We’re not accepting their ban,” said Sister Kate. “It’s against the will of the people, and that makes it unnatural and immoral.”

Hard at work: The Sisters of the Valley are licensed Medical Marijuana growers.

Hard at work: The Sisters of the Valley are licensed Medical Marijuana growers

Standing together: Nuns Sister Kate and Sister Darcy.

Standing together: Nuns Sister Kate and Sister Darcy.

Perfecting things: Each and every of the products created by the sisters is prayed over before being sent out.

Perfecting things: Each and every of the products created by the sisters is prayed over before being sent out.

After consulting a YouTube video on her math, Sister Darcy weighed out the appropriate dosage of weed and scooped it into preparation jars.

After consulting a YouTube video on her math, Sister Darcy weighed out the appropriate dosage of weed and scooped it into preparation jars.

"I think that if you're proud of something that you do, everyone should know what you do," Sister Darcy says. "Show up."

“I think that if you’re proud of something that you do, everyone should know what you do,” Sister Darcy says. “Show up.”

"This is the Wild West," says Sister Darcy. "We're not growing dandelions."

“This is the Wild West,” says Sister Darcy. “We’re not growing dandelions.”

The sisters claim to infuse their products with healing powers through a series of rituals. For starters, they only manufacture from the new moon to the full moon.

The sisters claim to infuse their products with healing powers through a series of rituals. For starters, they only manufacture from the new moon to the full moon.

The sisters grow at capacity (12 plants) in a makeshift greenhouse on their property. While their bud looks typical, there's some magic in the medicine-making process.

The sisters grow at capacity (12 plants) in a makeshift greenhouse on their property. While their bud looks typical, there’s some magic in the medicine-making process.

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Between the FDA attacking CBD’s and the oppression cannabis has been receiving online, it was only a matter of time before The Sisters of the Valley would become a victim of the never-ending fight against cannabis acceptance.

The Sisters were doing great until ETSY decided to shut down their store. The Sisters say that ETSY closed down their store alleging that they were making health claims. ETSY began going after stores that make health claims last year, with the main focus towards stores that sold potions that claimed to be beneficial to one’s health.

Recently the FDA has been cracking down on CBD companies that claim their products could have health benefits. While many say they use CBD’s to treat some health issues, the FDA says that is not the case. The FDA is widely known for putting up road blocks that could be a threat to ‘Big Pharma.’

Along with the attack on CBD’s, cannabis related retailers have been having problems on social media sites. Facebook recently decided to start booting head shops off the site, a damaging blow for these stores advertising.

The Sisters are accepting ETSY’s decision and moving ahead with selling on their site. In the end, The Sisters feel this is the best thing to do and may end up being a blessing in disguise. However, at the moment, it is yet another challenge.

However, The Sisters do not want this to stop them from getting CBD products to people that need them, but the sudden closing of their store is a severe blow. The Sisters have encountered a few problems on the road to ensuring that they can cater to their growing number of buyers.

The Sisters have put together a Go Fund Me to help them keep on their path. Their goal is $10,000 to help with bills that they acquired while moving to their new farm. With this money, The Sisters said they would be able to make it through the transition to no longer using their ETSY store as their main point of sales. You can contribute to their Go Fund Me account by clicking here!

Video: A Weekend With the Sisters

The Sisters of the Valley online store was removed from Etsy. To learn more about their products, you can reach the sisters on Facebook.

Who we are

Based in California’s Central Valley, The Sisters of the Valley are not affiliated with any traditional earthly religion. The Sisters’ spiritual practices support the process of making medicine. We respect the breadth and depth of the gifts of Mother Earth, working to bridge the gap between Her and her suffering people.

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  • Ruahine

    Hallelujah Sister!! Are you a Christian, Brother? I sure will be after I have had some of that.

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