Meet The Sisters of the Valley. They’re not your ordinary nuns by any stretch of the imagination – that’s because they grow and sell marijuana.
Well, they’re not real nuns. But the way they see it, if U.S. schools can call pizza a vegetable they can call themselves nuns.
These women grow marijuana in a garage and produce cannabidiol salves and oils, selling their merchandise through their site. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the active ingredients in marijuana – it’s prized for its medicinal qualities and is not psychoactive.
Sister Kate got into the marijuana game after a bad divorce. She lived in Amsterdam for 10 years working as a business analyst, returning to the U.S. with her kids in 2008. That’s when her brother persuaded her to move to the Central Valley, California with him and start a medical marijuana business.
Their business was successful enough to survive, and Sister Kate settled into the local activist community in Merced City.
She began dressing like a nun in 2011, during the height of the Occupy movement. After becoming outraged with the U.S. Congress for classifying 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.’
That’s when she came up with the idea of a sisterhood of therapy plants. She explained:
I think we are missing the ritual, the candles, the songs, the pattern from our lives and I think it is healthy to have that, but we have to have our own individuality and personal freedoms- unlike what mainstream religion currently tries to stop from happening. Spirituality and activism is twined into what we do and that’s what we are trying to be.
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Since the sisterhood began last year, the collective has slowly grown, with Sister Darcy joining in September last year and Sister Rose in January. They now have 30 women waiting to join their movement, including ex-Catholic nuns.
“We are only just beginning, so when we bring them in we want to hire them, we want to take care of them, I want to give them an honourable wage and an honourable life”, Sister Kate explained, adding: “My idea is that this is a growing thing.”
They preach spirituality, environmentalism, progressive politics and feminism, and above all else, they’re determined to treat people with the healing properties of CBD.
She told us:
We are whole plant activists, we believe there is tremendous healing powers in the entire marijuana plant and science is now finally catching up and proving this theory right. If we want the plant to worker better it should include similar levels of THC and CBD, a pure plant oil, as none of us can improve on mother nature.
Their flagship product is a salve made from a blend of organic cannabis, coconut oil and other essential oils, which is then hardened with beeswax. This is mainly used to treat muscle and joint pain, but the sisters encourage users to be experimental.
“Many have told us that they dab it on their foreheads or behind their ears every morning to prevent migraines. One old man told us about using it for his joint aches when he was at the fair with his grandkids and when one needed changing, he used the cream for their nappy rash”, she said. “It has a wide range of uses and I absolutely love that people are embracing that.”
The Sisters of the Valley were selling their products through Etsy, until they shut them down recently, so now sell through their own site.
They doubled their sales since that move and came out with $60,000 in sales in the whole of 2015. Now in 2016 – since the increased media coverage they have received in recent months – they have been making around $40,000 a month.
However, their ambitions have been halted by legislation which was passed last year to regulate the medical marijuana industry in California. This essentially allows cities within the state to pass on local bans, which is what happened in Merced.
According to Sister Kate:
Those in authority are just trying to relive the start of the cannabis prohibition era, it’s the old paradigm holding onto this, they’re like, ‘I’ve been shaming people for using cannabis all my life, I’ve called it the devil’s weed, I wouldn’t help my nephew if he was a stoner, if my kid was a stoner, even if my dad was dying of cancer I wouldn’t give him any and now I have to roll over? Not a chance’.
So now the sisters and other growers are in a weird sort of limbo where they’re breaking the law, but police aren’t enforcing it fully.
“The Sheriff’s department visit us on their days off so the public don’t see that instead of using tax payer money to investigate murders, meth dealers and gangs, they’re instead using it to check me out,” Sister Kate explained.
They’re letting the Sisters continue their commerce on the condition that every batch is vigorously tested to prove their products aren’t psychoactive, and they have to remain in regular contact with officers.
But how did all this animosity towards marijuana growers begin? The infamous ‘War on Drugs’ was rolled out in the Nixon era and proved popular with voters in the U.S., so other countries soon followed suit with a zero tolerance stance towards all illegal drugs.
One of the major reasons that governments across the globe have kept marijuana illegal is because they view it as a gateway drug.
Sister Kate told us what she thought about marijuana being labelled this way:
I absolutely agree it’s a gateway drug, it’s a gateway drug off pharmaceuticals and harder drugs. Our customers claim our medicines are getting them off their reliance of pharmaceuticals. You’re not going to die from it, no-one is going to die from using marijuana.
Sister Kate explained that her nephew was a heroin addict before he was sent to her. She told his family, ‘we will make a stoner out of him yet’. They used marijuana as a gateway drug to get him off the heroin, and now three years later he’s going to medical school and hasn’t touched hard drugs since.
The likes of Columbia, Mexico and Guatemala, who suffer brutal violence from drug trafficking, called for an overhaul of drug laws during the UN’s 2016 General Assembly Special Session – which took place this week – pressing the need for reform. The UN were accepting of its failure on the so-called War on Drugs, but for now still seem intent on backing prohibitionist drug policies.
But despite all this, Sister Kate thinks there has been a shift in our view of marijuana and its prohibition. She thinks change is afoot and predicts a bright future for the case of legalising cannabis.
“It is happening, it really is, but it’s painfully slow. We have those forces who really want to keep it illegal and they’re not dead yet”, she said. “I was hoping they would have all died on us by now and we could move on with the show, but they’re still here, still in power, and it is frustrating. But it feels like we are winning.”
This is something the UK government knows all too well. They’ve been linking marijuana’s psychoactive properties to triggering schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar in their bid to keep it illegal.
However, there has long been debate over the drug’s potential link to mental health problems and a recent study carried out by Columbia University found no link between cannabis and anxiety and depression.
So what if drug policy does miraculously change? What would the future hold for the Sisters of the Valley?
Our golden ideal would be that we could start to export THC products around the world. We hope that one day soon, we can put the plant back together and offer whole plant medicine to everyone. That’s the goal and I think it’s only a matter of time.
With many police officers now turning a blind eye to personal cannabis use here in the UK, isn’t it about time the government had a re-think on its drug policy?