Drugs & Leisure

Sisters of the Valley: The Nuns Whose Religion Is Cannabis

Picture this: Feminist nuns who grow and produce cannabis, toting guns in an effort to scare off law enforcement and the drug cartel. These are the women who are introduced to the world in the trailer for the forthcoming Good Deeds Entertainment documentary, Breaking Habits. And it’s all a true portrayal—or at least partially true.

The Sisters of the Valley is made up of tens of women (and a few men) who identify as nuns—nuns who make cannabis concoctions to sell throughout the world. However, these nuns aren’t gun lovers. “We say yes to just about every media opportunity, so when some British documentarians approach us, we say yes. And then they decide to make this gangster portrayal that is just not who we are,” founder Sister Kate (born Christine Meeusen) explains. “But because they made it that way, we might be getting a whole lot more world recognition because of it. People are fascinated by guns, whether they like them or not.”

And she’s not wrong. Sure, the headlines across the internet prove the prominence of gun talk, and it is the image of Sister Kate holding a rifle in the trailer—declaring “I will do whatever it takes to protect what I built”—that caught Playboy’s attention. “We’re what we like to call a universal freak show,” Kate jokes before revealing that she invites over 52 media outlets to interview her per year. After being banned from advertising on Facebook early on in the business, she found that free press would be the key to growing her business, founded in 2015.
But with such an open-door policy, the Sisters of the Valley is left open to misrepresentations. Following multiple viewings of the Breaking Habits preview, we dove into any and all press coverage of the sisters. Each characterization differed: While a few exhibited a far more harsh version of them, others described flowery women, sort of hippie goddesses. Still, none of the seemingly endless renditions of Sisters of the Valley prepared us properly for what we would experience and learn during our afternoon at their headquarters in Merced County.

The central California hub is made up of a quaint split house sitting on one acre of land. This is where Kate and her team (of five-six women at any given point) produce their lucrative line of homemade CBD-infused salves, tinctures and oils. It’s a line that, in 2017 alone, made $1.1 million in sales. And just this year, sales have jumped from $2,500 to $4,000 per day.

Playboy’s first steps into the sprawl were greeted by a woman in a nurse’s uniform and a wide-brimming smile, topped off by a bandana decorated in cannabis leaves. “Isn’t this the best smell,” the 20-something said while tidying up in the kitchen. “Sister Kate will be here in a moment.” The woman dressed in a robe and habit appeared from a room and asked, “Would you mind if we sage you?” Her right hand, Sister Alice (who would not reveal her real name out of fear of some sort of retaliation), waved the lit smoking bundle and instructed: “Breathe it in. Let the negativity go. Feel it in your heart.”
We’re what we like to call a universal freak show.
At the first swish of sage, it quickly became apparent that while the sisters look like nuns, they are far from the nuns who are affiliated with the Catholic Church. “Our only religion is cannabis, and we fashion ourselves after our Beguine mothers,” the founder explained. The Beguine mothers—who Kate admits she learned about on the internet—were female factions in the Middle Ages who lived, worked and prayed as one, away from men or the Catholic Church.

”They were scholarly women and spiritual women, and they dressed alike to identify their enclave. They went extinct because they didn’t believe in aligning themselves with any one religion, so The Inquisition took them out. And we believe The Inquisition taking them out formed the concept of the Catholic nuns of chastity being celibate.” Kate goes on, “They believed in women having private property, we believe in women having private property, they didn’t believe in organized religion, we don’t believe in organizing ourselves as a religion.”

Beyond the property’s walls, decorated with giant pots reeking of that familial dank smell and playful cannabis-themed art, is a sort of cannabis lover’s wonderland. Two rows of lush flowers sit in the middle surrounded by fruits and vegetables, a yurt and a gazebo. The sisters gathered around in between plucking their harvest and described their lives to me in such a sleepy farmer’s town: They work on their own schedules, some have children, others have husbands. “There is no normal day,” Kate chimes. Sometimes they can be seen walking through the town’s streets visiting vendors, or tending to their garden of fruits and vegetables, brewing concoctions in their kitchens, or swinging on swings in their front yard.
When we sat down with Kate in her office, she immediately started rolling a joint over Devin Nunes’ campaign mailer. “I’m rolling a joint right over his lies,” she laughs. No, Kate is not delicate, and she’s certainly not conservative (despite her location’s predominantly pro-Trump mentality), but she is an eccentric—hyper-intelligent, tenacious, funny and beautifully nurturing. She is unapologetic in her beliefs and has a sort of gentle ferocity when she speaks. She is about as rare as her business model. And the 59-year-old has come a long way to get to this point. As a little girl, she wasn’t interested in weed, but she did go to a Catholic school where she recognized that the nuns ran everything: “They were the serious ones getting work done, and the priests were like decoration.”

While she knew in college that she preferred cannabis over alcohol (“Mostly because I come from a long line of alcoholics”), it wasn’t until her work as a business analyst brought her husband and children to Amsterdam that she discovered the plant to be far more than a party drug. “I went to my doctor because I couldn’t sleep, and he said, ‘Have you ever had cannabis?’ I had, but he told me to smoke more. At the same time he told me to give up alcohol and caffeine. It worked, and that was the first time I came to fully understand its medicinal properties.“
The medicinal powers of cannabis were proven again when her sister sent her son to his aunt in hopes of helping him overcome his heroin addiction. “Cannabis got him off of heroin, and he hasn’t used it since. And then I used it to get people off meth, and then people off cigarettes, and on and on.” She became a fully functional and proud stoner while mothering her three children, playing wife, and taking home “a lot of money,” but her world crumbled when her husband stole her savings and left her “penniless.” That’s when she came to California’s Central Valley to be with her brother and his family. “I couldn’t do my old work anymore because it required too much travel for a single mother, and there is very little industry in the valley.”

It was in 2009 when Kate and her brother Joe turned her passion for cannabis into a non-profit business called Caregrowers, a medical cannabis delivery program that serviced the sick and dying. Operating in California—then one of the only states to have legal medicinal cannabis— allowed Kate the opportunity to spread what she loved about cannabis. She could help people cure chronic pain, addiction, or at the very least, make the dying more comfortable in their final days.

Many of her sick patients couldn’t smoke joints, so Kate had to figure out an alternative. She scoured YouTube to search for ways to create her first edibles and tinctures. At the same time, in 2011, Kate began traveling up and down the coast to participate in protests with the Occupy Movement—an international fight against social and economic inequality. Her marching garb mostly included a robe and habit from Halloween’s past, inspiring people to start calling her Sister Occupy. “And then my brother made me homeless because I wasn’t respectful to him and making him enough money fast enough.”
Tired of relying on disappointing men, Kate dissolved the business in 2013 in search of a new calling with a reclaimed interest in a nun’s influence. “At protests people would ask me how they could join, as if I was a religion. My response was, ‘There is nothing to join!’” Though, inquiries into her look got her to thinking, “If there was a new-age religion, what would it look like? What would it smell and taste like? What would the men and women’s roles be?” Her answer was the Sisters of the Valley.

“We’re spiritual healers—a combination between Wiccan beliefs and Native American beliefs.” As an analyst by trade, she analyzed her Beguine ancestor’s beliefs and the beliefs of Aztec ancestors of Merced and created her own list of vows: 1) Service to the plant and to the people; 2) Obedience to the moon cycles; 3) Living simply; 4) Activism; 5) Chastity (they can have sex, but should keep sex lives private); 6) Ecology, in that everything they do is for Mother Earth.

Since the business launched in 2014, most prospective sisters reach out via social media and visit the business before becoming apart of the movement. "I always say I launched the business on 5,000 Facebook friends,” Kate remembers. There are now sisters in multiple countries and those who work on the business side, harvesting, trimming and brewing their high-CBD strains with coconut oil, making at least $15 per hour and up to $35 per hour.

The strains are CBD-only—the non-psychoactive part of cannabis—because CBD is federally legal and can be brought across state lines and fly over continents. “None of us are very thrilled with doing CBD only, because it’s only half the medicine,” Kate explains. “But it’s what lets us ship internationally, and we would not be doing $4,000 in revenue a day if we couldn’t ship internationally.” 
We consider ourselves to be midwives to the matriarchy and here to usher in a new era.
The sisters enjoy THC-high cannabis throughout the day. “We smoke a lot of weed, and that’s part of our security program. If people around here know we spend $100-300 on weed at dispensaries nearby than they know we're not growing our own.” It’s a tactic that, contrary to Breaking Habits’ trailer, has kept the sisters largely out of trouble with police.

Beyond the money, their CBD-only products also allow them to medicate more people. “Our most famous case is a little girl who averaged 100 seizures a day, and she’s now 15 months seizure-free after using our product. We tried to get her in Breaking Habits, but she got cut for guns.” And Kate notes that a month won’t pass without at least one letter from a cancer patient who reports their tumor has shrunk, and the only addition to their regimen was their product.

During lunch, a spread of Foster’s Freeze burgers, fries and diet coke, reveals that these women do not strictly live off the land. “We’re not aliens,” Sister Alice jokes. “We consider ourselves natural healers, but if any of us had a tumor, god forbid, we’d use modern medicine. We consider ourselves to be midwives to the matriarchy and here to usher in a new era. We’re the women who play between the black market and the coming legal market in cannabis and also the ones who play in between modern medicine and natural remedies.”
Alice is considered a elder among the women because of her age and her mastery of Reiki, a Japanese technique that reduces stress and promotes healing by her hand’s touch. The woman, like many of her peers, learned about Sister Kate and the Sisters of the Valley via social media. A little over a year ago, she was researching natural remedies for her fibromyalgia—a disease that amplifies pain—and the movement popped up: “After I did my research, I wrote Kate, explaining a bit about myself, that I got off opioid pain medication because of CBD.” It’s been a year since she arrived and she has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

Another elder, Sister Sierra, earned her status because of age as well as her understanding of spirituality. Before she landed in Merced, she was a nun of the Catholic order for 23 years, but she “left the convent and the church after suffering abuse and seeing too much. I couldn’t give my heart to the church anymore, but I still had a sister’s heart, and I kept seeking. I couldn’t find what I wanted until I came across a YouTube video of these sisters smoking. I was like ‘Nuns, spirituality, weed and community?’ Yes.”
As elders it is their role, alongside Sister Kate, to interview potential sisters. When they reach out, via email usually, the women begin by asking simple questions about their history with activism and spirituality. “Then we invite them here to a moon ceremony, which includes food and drink. That’s when we can tell if they belong,” Alice says. “Sometimes we’re not mad about dropping them off at the bus stop, and other times we're ready to induct them with a ceremony where they take the six vows.”

The Sisters of the Valley is just one movement within the cannabis community that proves how the plant is changing American culture. And the beautiful thing about the new, blossoming industry is that it is so multi-faceted that it welcomes new ways of living. 

While there is no denying that their products are transformative, it is their vows, their doctrine, their home that is the most striking. The Sisters of the Valley exemplify a world that incorporates meditation not as an obligation, but as a way of life that tosses aside society’s restrictions. Their story is one that is not of folklore, it’s not a cult, but a reminder that life is about choices and it’s in our power—with or without cannabis’ help—to choose how to live.

Breaking Habits' filmmakers were not available for comment.

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