Few individuals make for a more surprising marijuana seller than a nun.
It’s no wonder then that just six months after launching Sisters of the Valley Cannabis, the woman behind it, Sister Kate, has sold out of everything she makes. On the Etsy page for her Cannabidiol (CBD) infused salves and tonics she’s posted an apology: “We have quickly sold out of most items and are behind in processing others,” she writes. “These are good problems for the Sisters, but not so good for our buyers.”
The CBD-based products, which she makes at her central California home (“the Abbey”), are in high demand for good reason. Made with the healing ingredient in cannabis, they contain little to no THC (a psychoactive), meaning patients get relief from pain without getting high. In the past few years, there has been a plethora of scientific research showing CBD to be a potentially life-changing medicine for people with chronic pain.
It’s this healing power that Sister Kate is committed to bringing to her customers—one that the city council in Merced, California, is threatening to ban. Determined to stop that from happening, she’s launched a Change.org campaign. It’s one of the many places where Sister Kate openly outs herself: She isn’t a real nun.
She hasn’t taken a vow of poverty nor committed to a life without sex. She doesn’t use the Bible as a way to defend marijuana, and she isn’t interested in being subservient to priests. Her motivation to sell weed as a nun is multi-layered—preceded by a decade in Amsterdam, four months of homelessness, and a stint in the Occupy movement.
Sister Kate isn’t a nun: She’s a vegan, pot-loving feminist with a big heart and a white robe.
Sister Kate (real name Christine Meeusen) sounds chipper on the phone. The 56-year-old Milwaukee native and mother of three has just gotten back from a shopping trip—well, sort of. “We were buying white blouses and white shoes,” she says, mentioning her apprentice Sister Darcy. “Stocking up.”
That uniform, one they display proudly on Instagram and Facebook, is a look typical of Catholic nuns. After spending 12 years in a Catholic school taught by nuns, it’s one she knows well. It’s there where her love for the nurturing environment of a sisterhood began. But while she was interested in their mission, she was dismayed by their rules. So instead, she chose the business world.
After graduating from University of Wisconsin, Meeusen worked her way up through the business world, eventually creating a boutique business-consulting firm that, in the 1990s, landed her, her husband, and their three kids in Amsterdam.
She stayed there for a decade until a falling out with her husband in 2008 forced her to move to her brother’s house in central California. Living in a tiny home with his two teenage sons and her three kids, she chose to launch a new business in an industry she’d had great exposure to in Amsterdam: pot.
After her two nephews thwarted an attempt to form a cannabis collective, her brother lashed out and kicked her out of the house. It was then that things got really rocky. “Four months of homelessness with my daughter still in high school,” she says. By then the Occupy movement was in full swing, and Meeusen—desperate for a community—joined.
On the streets of Occupy in California, Sister Kate was born. As she remembers, it was the rumor that Congress was going to declare pizza a vegetable that set her off. “I said, ‘If pizza is a vegetable, I’m a nun,’” she tells me. “So I went to the streets to protest in a nun outfit. It was then I realized how much people were missing the presence of robed clergy.”
Dressed in nun garb head to toe, she marched with signs like: “If you don’t believe in government, perhaps you shouldn’t run from it.” In a Facebook post from 2011, she cited one of the reasons for doing it: “[I’m] annoyed that our priests and nuns go around incognito…To me, it is like being undercover cops. They need to wear their uniforms to identify themselves, don’t you think?”
While a nun, she says, people came up to her often—confiding in her, asking for prayers, telling her that it made them feel better just to see that she was there. During this time, Meeusen began to relaunch her marijuana business, purchasing a small house by the railroad tracks where she could grow it. Inspired by the level of comfort her nun identity evoked, she decided to keep it.
In 2014, she launched Sisters of the Valley with a few crops near a small house she purchased in Merced. Meeusen says she imagined it’d be a way to support herself and help the sick at the same time. She did not envision that it would grow to this scale. “We thought we were making a small little business,” she says.
With write-ups across the Web, the days of a “small little business” are out the window. Along with Sister Darcy, she is expanding to a new space. Her company boasts 129 nearly perfect reviews on Etsy with customers singing her praises. “I have been struggling for 10 years with pain and nausea,” one user wrote last week. “I have tried more prescriptions than I care to remember, and I can finally say I have found something that eases the pain.”
On her website, Sister Kate expands on the process behind the making of her products—an explanation that is, admittedly, a bit out there. “With the power of the moon cycles, with great respect for Mother Earth and her bounty, we make our medicines according to ancient ritual,” she writes. It’s a method that she and Sister Darcy capture on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, where they post pictures and videos of them picking cannabis and putting the diluted salves into bottles.
Growing in popularity and sold out of her products, Mueesen says she’s migrating to a larger farm, where she hopes to welcome more sisters into her order. It’s one based on the values of Catholicism, she says, but without the guilt factor. “We disagree with the concept that suffering is normal and a part of life,” she says. “We think that’s bullshit. Suffering isn’t a part of life; they’re making it so when they criminalize plant-based remedies.”
Despite differing opinions, she says the Catholics she’s encountered thus far have embraced her. “I’ve been visited by a priest, he came in saying what he thinks I’m doing is wonderful,” she tells me. “I’ve met incognito nuns who say, ‘How are you wearing that? I did that for years.’ But [Catholics] understand what I’m doing and, for the most part, they’re totally OK with it.”
If there’s one bone she has to pick with the church, it’s the way that nuns, who she says do all the hard work, are made to be “subservient” to the priests. “I always wanted to be a sister,” she says. “But I couldn’t be in a sisterhood that wasn’t empowered.”
So instead, she’s created her own, an order that’s fueled by a mission to heal pain—one that, whether you buy into it or not—is ultimately succeeding. “I try to emulate the Catholic nuns standards of excellence,” she says. “They stood for something. I’m trying to bring that back.”