For a truly challenging way to make a living, try running a medical cannabis farm and mail order business in Merced County, California. The hype about California is that its residents are all loopy, laid-back stoners trying to revive the 1960s. But about half of the state’s counties are rural, conventional and adamantly anti-cannabis. Merced County, in the Central Valley, is all of that plus economically depressed; its small cities struggle with big city problems—hard drugs, gangs, a high murder rate, and lots of unemployment.
Sister Kate, founder of the Sisters of the Valley—also known as Sisters of CBD, or the Weed Nuns—landed in Merced after some twists and turns. In the Rob Ryan biopic Breaking Habits, released in 2018, Sister Kate details her path to becoming a Sister of CBD. She began in a Wisconsin version of the conventional American mindset, she says, yet earned a degree in business education and became the CEO of her own consulting firm while her then husband stayed at home with their three children. After she discovered her hubby siphoned money she earned into private accounts all his own, as she claims, he left her and their kids penniless. She then moved to Merced to share housing and help run a strictly medical cannabis farm with her brother. But, she felt betrayed by him too. In the film, she says he sold cannabis on the black market. When she protested, he threw her out.
Near penniless again and homeless, she and her oldest son spent four months contemplating suicide. Inner strength, an activist’s heart and feminist spiritual values saved her life and her son’s too. In 2011, she learned about the Occupy Movement and joined public marches dressed as the “Occupy Nun.” Aware of the healing powers of cannabis and the lack of CBD-based strains and products at the time, she turned her growing prowess to filling that niche.
For many years a feminist nurtured by earth-focused spiritual values, she brought together all those aspects of herself to heal and start over yet again. A few years later, when that beloved son became addicted to methamphetamine, she placed him under house arrest, offered him physical work, gym workouts, and unlimited cannabis after traditional rehab did not work. She advises other parents to, “Give your kid a safe environment and let them come out of it on their own.”
Sister Kate dresses in her white wimple, cap, veil and blouse, usually over a long denim skirt. She calls herself a “self-empowered, self-declared, anarchist, activist nun.” She gradually attracts a cluster of like-minded women. Emulating the Beguines—religious orders of the 12th and 13th century in Northern Europe who lived in devotion without joining approved religious orders, according to the Britannica dictionary—the Sisters of the Valley espouse a more Mother Earth-centered spirituality than Christian women, but the principle is the same. They live and work together, dress as their founder does, and need no approval from external sources.
The film credits list seven Sisters. A June 29, 2019 article in the Eureka, California newspaper, the Times-Standard, names two others in town for a screening of the film; Sister Sierra, who spent 13 years as a Catholic nun; and Sister Star, who wrote and self-published her autobiography, Accidental Nun, after suffering a stroke.
Like the Beguines, these Sisters face some heavy disapproval and opposition. The film shows Sister Kate compassionately countering some angry hectoring by a local Christian firefighter for
dressing like a nun. The county Board of Supervisors repeatedly ignored their request for the legal protection of a Conditional Use Permit mandated by the state’s medical cannabis law. And Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke sounds like a 1980s throwback cop from the era of Operation Green Sweep, one of the multi-agency police campaigns that turned the North Coast of California into a militarized zone.
Quoted in this 2018 film Breaking Habits, he makes no distinction between CBD and THC and confuses cannabis and its users with hard drugs and addicts. “Cannabis can be very dangerous, its people just want to get high. They’re non-productive… leeching off society.” And then there’s this gem, “I don’t believe it heals anything. They’re drug dealers and trying to say its medicine. You know they’re lying.”
The Sisters of the Valley rise above. Sister Kate says, “Our beliefs: number one, we organize our lives around the moon cycles and the quarters of the year and number two; being compassionate with other people on the planet…Our daytime job is a sacred calling to healing.”
The film briefly shows them smudging plants with sage, performing a ceremony to the four directions, and they are glowingly endorsed by a Yaqi Native elder who says, “they are medicine people.” The Sisters of the Valley are “family, serious women on a serious mission,” says Sister Kate and, “our business is testing the boundaries of the laws and our right to grow this medicine.”
After several years of intense harassment, she hired a professional lobbyist to get the Board of Supervisors to accept the differences between CBD and THC and grant that permit. By the film’s end, she seems to make progress.
Sister Kate welcomes the “ones who hate us, we want them to come out” and learn what they are doing. A PROHBTD article explains that the Sisters embrace many forms of activism, claiming “clergy are often absent from where the people need them.” They bring good jobs to their impoverished county, provide an alternative to big pharma, empower people to heal themselves, register voters, especially young ones, and challenge anti-cannabis legislation. They work and live in a spiritual environment, respecting Mother Earth and dedicated to restoring women’s spiritual authority and leadership. Amen, sisters!
The Sisters of the Valley brand makes high CBD/low THC oils and salves, shipping all around the country now that CBD is federally legal. For more information visit SistersofCBD.com
Photos: Dwight Larks