Photo via Sisters of the Valley on Instagram
Last October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act into law, requiring local jurisdictions to develop their own marijuana regulations by March 1, 2016, or relinquish authority to the state government. As a result, as many as 19 cities around the state have scrambled to ban medical cannabis dispensaries before the deadline, and more are considering enacting bans or restrictions of their own.
One of those cities is Merced, located in Northern California's San Joaquin Valley, where local lawmakers voted Tuesday to impose a moratorium on the cultivation of medical marijuana until the city figures out exactly what to do about the issue.
In the lead up to city council vote, the most visible opponents of the ban were the Sisters of the Valley, a pair of self-described New Age nuns who grow medical marijuana in the garage of Sister Kate, the elder nun and the founder of the group. The Sisters concentrate on growing cannabis strains that are rich in CBD, a non-psychoactive element of marijuana, and sell medicinal salves, tinctures, and other goods via Etsy.
Although the Sisters of the Valley wear habits, they aren't nuns in the traditional sense. Sister Kate, and her partner Sister Darcy, don't follow any sort of organized religion, but rather see themselves as a spiritual sisterhood devoted to medical marijuana. VICE spoke to Sister Kate about the Sisters fight against the new ban, and their commitment to making marijuana medicine by the moon cycles.
VICE: Who exactly are the Sisters of the Valley? What do you guys stand for?Sister Kate: When you're a sister, you represent order, cleanliness, efficiency, honesty. I thought, "What could I form that is self-sustaining, that could be a sisterhood, that would weave in spirituality, that would weave in Mother Earth?" and sort of came up with Sisters of the Valley. We want to be self-empowered, female-run, and female-owned.
Why wear a habit?
We chose that uniform because people can identify with it very quickly. We never hide the fact that we're not Catholic nuns; we're a New Age sisterhood. We try to operate based on what our ancient mothers would do. We make our medicine new moon to full moon, and we work everyday in our habits, and those are the days we do prayer ceremonies and focus on the medicine. As soon as we're through a full moon, we're in a relaxation state for two weeks. It's during that time that we are more relaxed and more likely to be out and about [not wearing habits].
No one who works with us, or for us, has to put on the habit, unless they feel like they want to. We do make vows, but our obedience is to the cycles of the earth and to the plants.
Are you worried about being shut down?
[The Merced City Council] could shut me down. But I've already made it clear to all of them that they're going to have to shut me down.
Sister Kate during the harvest. Photo via the Sisters on Instagram
As a self-identified "nun," how would you describe your spirituality?
I think there are many, many women who are missing the concept of a sort of sisterhood, a supporting sisterhood. I would never, ever say that we are aspiring or trying to be like the Catholic nuns, because we're not. We're trying to do something that's more activist-based, that's more planet-based, Mother Earth-friendly. What we are very, very strict about is being vegan during our medicine-making moon cycles. There are two weeks out of the month where we are strictly vegan because that actually does something for Mother Earth. That to me is putting an olive branch to the old concept of sisterhood. We want to be empowered [women], something that will teach a culture of activism for change.
Can you explain how harvesting medical cannabis is a spiritual practice for the Sisters?
The cannabis culture, stoner culture, is kind of offensive to those of us who have held a pipe up to a shaking Parkinson's patient, and seen how [with] one hit out of the pipe, his shakes can go away, and he can actually get up and make tea and act like a normal person. So the spirituality for me, personally, it was a convenient way to develop a work ethic in my business. It's a mode of work that demands excellence, that demands high quality, and demands intention and purpose. It nourishes me to have that in my daily life. But it does something bigger. As long as we are the honorable women and wear the garb honorably, then we are a counterbalance to the stoner culture.
How central is cannabis to that spirituality?
Our culture of sisterhood isn't just about the cannabis plant. Spirituality is about following ancient wisdom, planting by moon cycles, and harvesting by moon cycles, and participating in what is nourishing to the soul. We are trying to create a lifestyle that has us putting our hands in Mother Dirt in the early part of the day, and maybe doing office work later where there's some spirituality booked into the schedule.
We don't pray to the cannabis plant; I laughed when someone suggested that we were honoring the cannabis plant. No, we're putting our own inherently divine healing energies into the growing and producing of medicine that our ancient mothers did.
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