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These California Nuns Grow Medical Marijuana, But Their City Wants to Shut Them Down

Health + Wellness

Two self-proclaimed nuns, Sister Kate and Sister Darcey, grow and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes in Merced, California. But the future of their business is now in jeopardy as the Merced City Council issued a temporary ban on marijuana cultivation after a 6-0 vote on Jan. 4.

The Sisters of the Valley grow and sell medical marijuana products in Merced, California. However, the city recently placed a temporary ban on marijuana cultivation, putting the sisters' business at risk. Photo credit: Sisters of the Valley

The Sisters of the Valley sell their line of medicinal salves, tonics and tinctures on Etsy. Their products, which are independently certified as organic, are high in CBD, or cannabidiol, a cannabis compound that has been shown to have significant medical benefits, and low in THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the better known cannabis compound with psychoactive properties.

According to the sisters, they make the medicine based on "ancient ritual," which involves turning their cannabis tinctures every morning and night, only bottling tinctures during a full moon and saying a healing prayer over every bottle and jar before it's sold.

"We make CBD oil, which takes away seizures and a million other things," Sister Kate told ABC News. "It's very high in demand from cancer patients right now. And we make a salve that's a multi-purpose salve, but we found out it cures migraines, hangovers, earaches, tooth aches and diaper rash." The salve is made from cannabis trim, coconut oil, vitamin E, lavender oil, calendula oil and beeswax.

But now, even though the sisters feel that their products are vital to their patients, they are in legal limbo. "It's frustrating to me because there are all of these people with negative attitudes about something that is truly God's gift," Sister Darcey told ABC News.

"The city council said it needs to do more research to determine the maximum number of dispensaries that should be allowed in Merced, which zones would be best for dispensaries or delivery services and if outdoor cultivation has setbacks," the Merced Sun-Star reported. "A second reading of the ordinance will be at the next meeting on Jan. 19. The ordinance becomes official 30 days later."

Merced is among dozens of municipalities in California moving to ban various aspects of cannabis cultivation, thanks to a loophole in the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which passed in October 2015. California voters approved medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago, but it wasn't until October that the state adopted regulations for the growth, transport and sale of cannabis. The legislation was hailed by lawmakers as "a comprehensive framework to regulate the industry," but there was one "glitch," as The San Francisco Chronicle put it.

"A provision written into the law said that if cities didn’t adopt their own land use regulations for allowing medical cannabis cultivation permits by March 1, the state would assume that responsibility," The Chronicle reported. So, cities such as Merced, are enacting their own ordinances so they can retain local control on regulations.

But that March 1 date was actually a typo, the author of the bill, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), told The Los Angeles Times. The bill shouldn’t have included that stipulation, or any deadline at all, he said. Wood hopes to pass emergency legislation this month to supersede efforts from lawmakers in cities like Merced.

The point may soon be moot. Merced city councilman Kevin Blake told the Merced Sun-Star that recreational marijuana is expected to be on the state ballot in November. “I give it a year or two and this may all be irrelevant,” he said about the debate surrounding the local ordinance on medical marijuana.

Watch this clip from NowThis for more on the Sisters of the Valley (spoiler alert: they're fans of Bernie Sanders):

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.