HOLY DOPE

No, you are not hal­lu­ci­nat­ing: that re­ally is a NUN with a joint. And she not only smokes cannabis, she sells it – le­gally – to ease pain and suf­fer­ing. So is she a sis­ter of mercy, or just a mis­guided . . .

The Mail on Sunday - - Com­ment - By Ben Ellery

‘This felt worse than 100 hang­overs’

MOST nuns de­vote them­selves t o prayer and spir­i­tual con­tem­pla­tion, but you might say the Sis­ters of the Val­ley have fallen into bad habits – as they spend their days tend­ing and smok­ing mar­i­juana.

This bizarre or­der in the quiet coun­try town of Merced in Cal­i­for­nia is just one of the ex­traor­di­nary stops on the route of the celebri­ties in the new ITV show Gone To Pot.

Christo­pher Big­gins and Birds Of A Feather’s Linda Rob­son are among the stars vis­it­ing the states in Amer­ica which have le­galised mar­i­juana, for a se­ries ad­dress­ing the hugely con­tro­ver­sial de­bate over whether the drug should be al­lowed in Bri­tain.

Pro-le­gal­i­sa­tion cam­paign­ers point to its sup­posed med­i­cal ben­e­fits – as do the Sis­ters of the Val­ley, who make oils, salves and soaps from the drug they de­scribe as a ‘gift from God’ and which they claim pro­vides re­lief from the symp­toms of arthri­tis, epilepsy and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

But in Bri­tain oth­ers re­main firmly con­vinced the law must not change and point to the lives dam­aged and even lost to the drug. An in­quest last week found Polly Ross, 32, had de­vel­oped ‘drug-in­duced psy­chosis’ caused by mar­i­juana she had been smok­ing to ease her morn­ing sick­ness be­fore she killed her­self by step­ping out in front of a train.

In Cal­i­for­nia, it has been le­gal for 21 years to pur­chase mar­i­juana for medic­i­nal pur­poses and the state voted last year for recre­ational use to be le­galised too.

Big­gins and Pam St Cle­ment – who played Pat Butcher in EastEn­ders – be­gan their three-week jour­ney in San Fran­cisco, Cal­i­for­nia.

All the stars in Gone To Pot suf­fer from med­i­cal con­di­tions which it is claimed can be eased with cannabis. Af­ter dis­cus­sion with a doc­tor, they ob­tained li­cences al­low­ing them to buy mar­i­juana.

The drug has two ac­tive com­pounds as­so­ci­ated with medic­i­nal prop­er­ties – cannabid­iol (CBD), which is said to help with pain re­lief; and tetra hy­dro­can na bi­nol(THC), the part of the plant which pro­duces a ‘high’ and is also claimed to act as a re­lax­ant.

Suf­fer­ing from mood swings and hot flushes, Ms Rob­son, 59, was look­ing for a rem­edy from the symp­toms of menopause, and also her dif­fi­culty sleep­ing due to jet-lag. In Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, she bought a cannabis brownie from the Har­bor­side Health Cen­ter mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary, where the shelves are brim­ming over with plants, oils, crisps, cook­ies and choco­lates con­tain­ing the drug.

Af­ter be­ing up un­til 4am, Rob­son de­cided to eat the brownie. ‘I felt so re­laxed and then I went back to sleep for four hours,’ she said.

Big­gins, 68, who suf­fers pain in his hip and back, bought an oil con­tain­ing CBD and he too found it seemed to work. He said: ‘Hav­ing taken the med­i­cal mar­i­juana and rubbed it on to my thighs and around my knee area, I was amazed how when I went for my nightly pee how quickly I got out of bed.’

But Big­gins had a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence when the stars vis­ited the home of 94-year-old chef Nonna Mar­i­juana, who has earned renown for her cook­ing us­ing mar­i­juana-in­fused but­ter. They en­joyed a meal in which al­most every dish – in­clud­ing gnoc­chi, rata­touille and even ice cream – was laced with mar­i­juana.

Big­gins, who suf­fers from asthma and never smokes, de­voured the dishes with de­light but hours after­wards be­gan to feel un­well. Even­tu­ally, he be­came vi­o­lently sick, vom­it­ing a to­tal of 25 times over an ag­o­nis­ing few hours.

Darts su­per­star Bobby Ge­orge also be­came ill af­ter the meal, and said it felt ‘worse than 100 hang­overs’.

At the Sis­ters of the Val­ley con­vent, the ITV stars were greeted by the nuns per­form­ing a wel­com­ing rit­ual of hold­ing bunches of burn­ing sage bil­low­ing with smoke. The nuns har­vest mar­i­juana plants and heat them with co­conut oil for three hours to pro­duce their tinc­tures.

For­mer foot­baller John Fashanu, 55, has never taken drugs or drunk al­co­hol. He agreed to be­ing given a mas-

sage us­ing CBD oil by one of the nuns to help with his arthritic knees, but com­plained it had left him smelling like a ‘junkie’.

As well as pro­duc­ing oils for pain re­lief the nuns grow cannabis con­tain­ing THC which they smoke for plea­sure. Soap star Ms St Cle­ment, 75, has polymyal­gia rheumat­ica and has had a knee re­place­ment. Af­ter smok­ing a joint with the nuns, she said: ‘That first puff with the nuns – af­ter a few min­utes you just got a lovely re­laxed feel­ing.’

Last year, t he women made £840,000 from sales of their medic- inal plants. They sell their prod­ucts all over the world and their third­biggest mar­ket is the UK.

For­mer world cham­pion darts player Bobby Ge­orge smoked a joint with the sis­ters. The 71-yearold, who takes 16 pain pills a day af­ter he broke his back, said: ‘Two or three puffs makes you feel like you’ve had four-and-a-half pints.’

The Sis­ters of the Val­ley were started by for­mer Catholic Chris­tine Meeusen, 58, known as Sis­ter Kate, who be­gan dress­ing as a nun to protest against the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment dur­ing the Oc­cupy move­ment. She founded the ‘or­der’ three years ago and set up the farm. Since then four other women have moved in with her at her ‘abbey’. Although not a re­li­gious or­der, the nuns believe in God, and base their be­liefs on 13th Cen­tury Beguines – a group of Euro­pean sin­gle women who chose to live in poverty and val­ued fe­male in­de­pen­dence. Un­like tra­di­tional Catholic nuns, the sis­ters do not have a vow of chastity and keep their sex lives pri­vate.

Sis­ter Kate, a mother of three, said: ‘We are hum­ble, God-fear­ing women but we re­fer to God as a wo­man. We believe cannabis is a gift from God.

‘As well as medic­i­nal plants, we also grow plants con­tain­ing THC – which we smoke. For us it’s not about get­ting high, it’s medicine. There are many more harm­ful drugs in the world such as pre­scrip- tion pills and al­co­hol. Cannabis should be le­gal. The lo­cal farm­ers think what we do is blas­phe­mous but we are in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar around the world. We wear the habits as a mark of re­spect to our na­tive moth­ers. We do a lot of char­ity work and are a lot more peace­ful than many gen­uine re­li­gions.

‘Next week we are go­ing to or­dain our first for­mer Catholic nun.’

The three-part se­ries Gone To Pot Amer­i­can Road Trip will be on ITV at 9pm on Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day.

‘We believe the drug is a gift from God’

V T I

SMOK­ING NUN: One of the Sis­ters of the Val­ley smokes mar­i­juana – watched by Pam St Cle­ment

ROAD TRIP: Pam St Cle­ment and Christo­pher Big­gins

BURN­ING IS­SUE: The ‘nuns’ wait to greet their Gone To Pot celebrity guests. Be­low: The mar­i­juana oil they make and sell

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