MERCED, Calif. - Nuns in California are growing marijuana illegally and selling their products online.
To understand the predicament the Sisters of the Valley find themselves in, you must first understand why dozens of cities rushed to enforce these emergency pot bans.
The localities were bracing for new lenient state laws set to take effect March 1. To avoid them, many cities passed their own bans in the last few months. But, California lawmakers ultimately decided not to impose the deadline.
The Sisters of the Valley run their mail order marijuana business out of a residential house in Merced, California, which has banned dispensaries, deliveries from dispensaries and cultivation.
“We are in the process of basically scheduling a workshop to discuss with council how to redo our ordinances,” said Mike Conway, Merced city spokesman.
Conway says the city and its police will not actively enforce the bans until a final decision is made.
But the nuns aren’t waiting around for an answer, they are expanding their growing Etsy business. They estimate the marijuana salves and tinctures bring in around $400,000 a year.
“Everything we are doing is illegal,” said Sister Kate, who leads the Sisters of the Valley. "Those plants you just saw in my garage…they’re illegal. The salves, the batch we’re about to show you, is illegal. Yes, everything is illegal.”
These are not your typical nuns. For one thing, they are not Catholic.
"We commit our life to cannabis,” said Sister Kate. "We commit our lives to the sisterhood.”
But, they take their vows very seriously.
"We live together, we work together, we’re a bit socialistic,” said Sister Kate. "If you look up what makes a ‘sister,' those are the things.”
Their core belief is in the healing power of CBD, an active cannabinoid found in marijuana plants. The nuns raise the plants, store the marijuana in a refrigerator and then cook it in crockpots with coconut oil. When the products harden, they put them in jars and ship them across the country — and the world.
“We’re selling out so fast, we’re struggling to keep up with demand,” said Sister Kate.
The nuns say the products do not give customers a ‘high’ because most of the THC, a chemical known for its psychological effects, is eliminated in the cooking process.
Next week, the nuns are moving out of the city into a farm house in the county, where growing 12 plants is permitted. But, they don’t plan to stop there.
"I guess I’m confident,” said Sister Kate. “From the standpoint, right will win at the end, but I don’t know how long that’s going to take.”