- Nuns in Merced, California spend their days tending and smoking marijuana
- The Sisters make oils and soaps from the drug they describe as a 'gift from God'
- This is the latest extrodinary stop in America on the new ITV show Gone to Pot
- The programme is looking at the US states that have legalised marijuana
Published: 19:54 EST, 11 November 2017 | Updated: 02:24 EST, 12 November 2017
Most nuns devote themselves to 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.
Nuns from the Sisters Of The Valley Order, pictured ready to greet the Gone To Pot celebrities exploring the legalisation of cannabis across the US
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.
Road Trip: Christopher Biggins, pictured left, and EastEnders' Pam St Clement, pictured right, are among the stars visiting the States that have legalised cannabis
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 Sisters of the Valley, pictured, in the quiet country town of Merced in California spend their days tending and smoking marijuana
The drug has two active compounds associated with medicinal properties – cannabidiol (CBD), which is said to help with pain relief; and tetrahydrocannabinol (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.
The Sisters of the Valley, pictured, make oils, salves and soaps from the drug they describe as a 'gift from God'
Pam St Clement and Christopher Biggins explore the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes meeting the Sisters of the Valley, pictured
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.
Should cannabis be legalised in UK for medicinal use? YES says Professor David Nutt, former government advisor
Cannabis was a medicine in the UK until 1971 when the Government succumbed to a decade of pressure from the USA to follow its lead and eliminate it from medicine.
This was based on political, not health considerations and was aimed to stop recreational use, an ambition that failed spectacularly as in the subsequent 20 years the number of recreational cannabis users increased 20-fold.
But patients were denied a proven medicine.
The American Academy of Science last year published a comprehensive report revealing the medicinal value of cannabis across a range of diseases including cancer and Aids, PTSD and addictions, cardiovascular and gut diseases.
At least 17 countries other than America have medical cannabis at present, including Holland and Spain.
For the UK, once a world-leading country in healthcare, to deny the value of medical cannabis is a sad reflection on how much political polemic has distorted rational thinking.
For the sake of the millions of patients who will benefit from medical cannabis, we must change the law now.
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 massage 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.
Should cannabis be legalised in UK for medicinal use? NO says Kevin A. Sabet, former White House Drug Policy adviser to President Barack Obama
Imagine if someone grew opium poppies in their garden and told you to smoke it to get the effects of morphine, which is an extract of the plant.
That is what is happening with the movement to legitimise medical cannabis.
Yes, the cannabis plant has medical properties but the idea of inhaling or eating raw, crude cannabis in the form of a spliff or chocolate bar is anything but scientific.
That is why it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of US medical marijuana cardholders are people with headaches or backaches – not cancer or Aids – and most of them have a drug problem.
The movement to legitimise raw marijuana as medicine – and bypass the scientific process ensuring safety and efficacy of a specific medication – is not only a front to legalise drugs, it is putting patients at risk.
Today’s high-potent cannabis greatly increases the risk of mental illness. If cannabis shows itself to have medicinal properties, so be it.
Let’s develop proper medications and regulate them under the advice of a physician. But don’t call your daily toke ‘medicine’ – it is anything but.
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, the women made £840,000 from sales of their medicinal plants. They sell their products all over the world and their third-biggest market is the UK.
Former world champion darts player Bobby George smoked a joint with the sisters. The 71-year-old, 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 prescription 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.
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Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania
A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.
Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.
The other driver involved was not hurt.
Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.
The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.
“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.
“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”
Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.
Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.
Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos
Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.
Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.
While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.
“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.
A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.
Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.
“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.
He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.
“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”
The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.
“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.
Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.
On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.
Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.
But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.
Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.
“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”
The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.
The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.
“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.
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