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California’s marijuana nuns feel ‘disrespected’ by city council ban

By   /   January 5, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Sister Kate walks down to the Merced, California, post office every day with packages ready to be mailed around the state and across the country.

Some get shipped as far away as Canada and Australia.

Photo via Sisters of the Valley Facebook page

The Merced City Council on Monday night advanced a proposal to ban the cultivation and sales of cannabis products. The ban would force small entrepreneurs like Sister Kate, left, to shut down her business or move it somewhere else, even though she’s selling products that are perfectly legal under state and federal law.

Inside each carefully labeled box is a small container of oil, ointment or tea, derived from the leaves of the cannabis plant but lacking the crucial psychotropic chemical that would turn those products into drugs in the eyes of federal officials. The THC-less marijuana-based products are an all-natural remedy for pain, and the market says Sister Kate might be on to something: she made more than $10,000 in sales last month through her Etsy store.

And while Sister Kate — that’s a pseudonym, by the way, which she accents by dressing like a Catholic nun, though she’s not a part of any religious order — looks around the world for new customers eager to use her products to fix their aches and pains, she’s got a political headache in her own backyard.

The Merced City Council on Monday night advanced a proposal to ban the cultivation and sales of cannabis products. The ban would force Sister Kate to shut down her business or move it somewhere else.

According to ABC-30, city officials said the decision wasn’t about legalization, criminal activity or putting people out of business. Some council members said they needed more time to make the right policy and said a ban should be in place in the meantime.

“They basically went ahead and ignored the entire packed house that was there,” Kate told Watchdog. She estimated that “30 or 40” people spoke up against the ordinance during Monday night’s meeting, including a local pharmacist and young woman battling cancer, while there was hardly anyone speaking in favor of the ban.

The council also went against the official recommendation from its very own planning commission.

The Merced Planning Commission in December recommended loosening the strict ban that has been proposed by the city council. One council member told the Sun-Star he believed marijuana is “here to stay” and “will continue to circulate” in the city, no matter how strict the rules might be.

READ MORE: Nanny State of the Week: California town could shut down marijuana-growing nuns

Legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown made cannabis-related businesses officially legal to operate in California, unless local governments act by March 1 to forbid them. Though the recreational use of marijuana is technically illegal in California, the state has a large network of licensed pot growers who supply medical marijuana.

Sister Kate opened her business in January 2015 and initially tried selling products through the state’s official network of medical marijuana distributors. When that proved too complicated, she took the business online, setting up an Etsy store and making direct sales to consumers.

Because her products don’t contain THC, she’s not breaking any state or federal laws by growing, selling or shipping them.

Since going online in July, Sister Kate says sales have nearly doubled every month. She made $10,000 in sales in December before running out of supply.

She’s proud of her success, but also happy to bring money into California’s Central Valley from all around the world, she told Watchdog.

And she’s willing to share some of that money with the city, if bureaucrats would forget about banning her business. At Monday’s meeting, she told the council “we want a license, we’re willing to write a check.”

On Tuesday, Kate said she feels disrespected by the council and the entire process. If the ordinance is given final approval next month, she’ll have to shut down her business or move somewhere else.

“We’d have to move out of the city, but moving into the county isn’t a great option because they have taken a similar position,” she said.

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Eric is the national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and Fox News. He was once featured in a BuzzFeed list-icle. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87.