It’s been a long road for the Wisconsin mom and one-time wife who now leads an international group of cannabis-growing nuns based in Merced County, and later this month a documentary will tell that tale.
Christine “Sister Kate” Meeusen and the rest of the Sisters of the Valley are the subject of “Breaking Habits,” a documentary premiering April 19 in Modesto, Los Angeles, New York and several other cities. It’ll also be streaming on iTunes the same day.
She’s grown what started as a business with 12 plants to one that makes $1.1 million a year in sales, she said. The documentary highlights the hoops they jump through to do that.
“The county is a far more interesting place than the Sisters,” the 60-year-old said. “So when these British filmmakers approached us ... and said we want to show the lightness of what the Sisters do against a gangster capital, I said yes.”
“I don’t think it really turned out that way,” she continued. “I think they made us look pretty dark ourselves, but we have no control.”
She takes umbrage with a scene where she’s holding a gun, saying the filmmakers tricked her into it. Ultimately though, she said, the documentary brings attention to the sisterhood and their cause.
The documentary uses home videos to take viewers back to Meeusen’s former life running a successful telecommunications consulting firm in Wisconsin. The family seemed like the quintessential Midwestern family.
“I voted for Reagan,” she said with a laugh.
That’s right. The leader of a group of weed-growing nuns once voted for President Ronald Reagan, whose wife, Nancy, championed the “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980s.
But, Meeusen and the documentary say her stay-at-home husband was secretly squirreling away money she made into his personal account and other international accounts.
When the 17-year marriage ended, he had all the money, she said. Then she found out their marriage was never legal because he was legally still married to his previous wife, according to the documentary.
Since then she’s been in more than a decade of legal sparring to try to get the money back from him, she said. He declined to be featured in the documentary.
She described his alleged betrayal like a “cannon to the chest” and relocated in 2008 to Merced County, where her brother already lived, according to the documentary.
“There was none of this wearing the nun’s costume or none of that,” her brother, Joe, says in the documentary. “That came about later.”
For the Sisters, the nun’s outfit is not a costume, Meeusen said. “The whole thing is a true religious belief it’s just not something most people can connect to,” she said. “It’s a little just too radical.”
The sisterhood was born during the Occupy movement that kicked off in 2011 and over time was developed into a set of beliefs that connect back to the Beguines, a 13th century women’s movement mostly wiped out by the Spanish Inquisition.
The documentary also features Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke and former District Attorney Larry Morse II. Warnke takes his typical tough stance on cannabis.
The Sheriff’s Office weekly takes down fields of marijuana grown in rural Merced County. So how do the nuns still operate?
It’s because the Sisters are growing marijuana high in CBD (the part with medicinal uses) and low in THC (the part that gets people high), Meeusuen said. A Colorado Bureau of Investigation officer tested it, and the difference between CBD and THC is covered thoroughly in the documentary.
“They investigated me thoroughly at taxpayer expense,” she said. “Nothing we have will get anybody high.”
The Sisters’ most popular product is a salve but they also make drops. Meeusen said they can’t keep up with demand and are asking Merced County to allow them to expand.
“My current problem is Merced County doesn’t know what to do with us,” she said. “We want to expand so more Sisters can live here. If we were a convent we wouldn’t have to ask for permission, but we’re not a convent because we’re not affiliated with any church.”
She already moved the business once based in Merced to a rural part of the county. If the county doesn’t allow the half-million dollar expansion, Meeusen said, the Sisters may have to leave and take their tax dollars with them.
The closest showings of the premiere are at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 19 at the State Theatre, 1307 J St. in Modesto.