Source: THEODORE ROSS, New York Times – January 9 2015
Cheryl Shuman, founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, arrived at the Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, an upmarket medical-marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, in a red 2010 Ferrari California, a gift, she said, from a friend. She had come to get supplies for a “mansion party” that she was hosting the following evening, one of the semiregular events she organizes with her daughter, Aimee, to promote their marijuana enterprises. Shuman, a tall 54-year-old blonde with the unflagging cheer of someone accustomed to being noticed, handed the keys to Perennial’s valets with a Mae West-inflected “Careful, boys.” She headed inside to present her state-issued Medical Marijuana Identification Card.
“Did you miss me?” she asked the receptionist. A polite, potbellied man who appeared to be under the influence of Perennial’s offerings, he brightened at her greeting. “Always,” he replied, as he reached under his desk to buzz her into the marijuana room.
Shuman uses marijuana for a variety of medical conditions, including hypertension and a benign mass on her liver. She typically begins each day with a “power smoothie” of marijuana, wheatgrass and vegetables. She ingests the drug regularly via a vaporizer and seasons her food with it as well. Shuman says the B.H.C.C. supplies its 50 members from a 68-acre marijuana farm in Northern California that she started in 2008. (She has another 1,700 “social media” members who can attend club parties but can’t sample the goods.) Today, however, Shuman wanted a wider variety for her event: a dinner that would feature a “cannabis tasting” paired to each course.
A strong aroma, floral and skunky, pervaded the marijuana room, which was dominated by three fluorescent-lit display cases. One was stocked with an array of “edibles,” including marijuana-laced brownies, pretzels and goldfish-shaped crackers. Another contained 13 small jars, each filled with one of the marijuana strains available that day. The third case held Shuman’s line of Beverly Hills Cannabis Club products: golf shirts in long and short sleeves; ashtrays; hemp-infused shampoo and olive oil; and a line of hand-held marijuana vaporizers.
Shuman conferred with her friend Sam Humeid, Perennial’s owner, about which strains to bring to the party. A former financial planner with heavy-lidded eyes and spiky hair, Humeid was unabashedly stoned. Shuman showed him the dinner menu for the event, which she had printed on heavy-stock paper and embossed with the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club logo. He scratched his chin with one finger for a few seconds, lost in thought.
“Now I’m really hungry,” he said. “Thanks, Cheryl.”
From the first case, Shuman chose 3.5 grams each of Juicy Fruit, Super Lemon Haze, Maui Wowie, Cannatonic and her favorite, Phyllis Diller, so named because once ingested, everything seemed funny. She studied a photo of Diller on the display case, dressed in a florid pantsuit and brandishing a cigarette holder. “I need to get one of those for my next photo shoot,” she said of the cigarette holder.
Shuman’s entrepreneurial approach to marijuana has not endeared her to her peers more firmly rooted in the activist world, many of whom view advocacy as a cause, not a market opportunity. In 2011, for example, Shuman was forced off the steering committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml) Women’s Alliance, after it was discovered that she used the group’s email list to promote her marijuana interests. (Shuman denies using the list improperly.) Diane Fornbacher, a founding member of the alliance who has clashed repeatedly with Shuman, told me: “She may be good at publicity and things like that. But she’s not interested in reform.”
Shuman draws little distinction between business and activism, and in fact regards the former as a more effective approach to the latter. “I can stand on a corner waving a sign, and no disrespect to the people who do that,” she told me. “Or I can go on national television and reach millions of people.” Her most prized guests for the event the following evening would be the executives from FremantleMedia, the production company that brought to the United States the franchises that “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” are based on. Fremantle had entered into a partnership with the documentarian Morgan Spurlock to co-produce a reality show (working title: “High Society”) starring Shuman and Aimee. Ultimately, Shuman’s ability to generate publicity means that she cannot be excluded from activism conversations. “Cheryl Shuman is always selling herself,” Allen F. St. Pierre, executive director of Norml, told me. “When I see her fluffing it up on television, it drives me crazy. But she’s leading the discussion.”
When California passed the first medical-marijuana law in 1996, the legal landscape for marijuana has undergone a significant transformation. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have medical-marijuana programs. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to enact recreational-marijuana laws; Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia passed similar measures in November. (Congress blocked portions of the district’s law a month later.) This legal shift, and the broader cultural one surrounding it, can be attributed, at least in part, to the increased acceptance of marijuana by women.
“Before 1996, women were the hardest group to get traction with,” St. Pierre told me. “But over time, the narrative changed with them, from ‘Just Say No’ to compassion, to marijuana as a medicine, as something you shouldn’t go to jail for using.” Women are like the battleground states of marijuana: Any bill that hopes to pass must be framed in terms likely to appeal to them. All of which means that women like Shuman — highly visible members of the still-small cadre of women willing to talk publicly about marijuana — are power brokers. They also act as a counterbalance to all the unsophisticated stereotypes of the marijuana user: the glazed-eyed hippies, the bong-ripping frat boys and the blunt-huffing hip-hop stars. Shuman is none of these things. She likes to refer to herself as “the Martha Stewart of marijuana” and holds the trademark on the phrase “Stiletto Stoners,” injecting a note of female glamour into the pot debate.
Shuman spoke of her holding company, Cheryl Shuman Inc., as the base from which to start a profusion of future marijuana-related ventures, some of them more plausible than others. There would be Stiletto Stoners, a clothing line for fashion-conscious marijuana users; the Hautevape vaporizer for women (gold-plated, pavé-set diamonds); Cannalebrity, a digital marijuana-celebrity magazine; and Shaman Therapeutics, which would retail cannabis-and-herbal remedies in pill, salve and other forms. “I want to do 420-friendly resorts,” she said, using a slang term for marijuana, “420-friendly yoga studios, Internet cafes, assisted-living centers.” There is, she said, “no limit to how big this can be.”
For the party, Shuman rented a faux-Italian villa on a winding private-access road in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. She hadn’t arrived when I got there at noon, but one of her “brand ambassadors,” an athletic college student from New Jersey named Briana, took me on a quick tour of the house — vast kitchen, vaulted ceilings, elevator — before depositing me at the poolside gazebo.
Shuman showed up in the early afternoon. After a quick inspection of the house and a chat with the chef, she settled into a chair in one of the bathrooms to have her makeup and hair done. Shuman knew the stylist from the “old days,” before marijuana, and they chatted amiably about her hair, their mutual friends and how satisfying she found it to work with her daughter. “Growing up, I knew I was going to start a family business,” she said. “I just didn’t know it would be in pot.”
Shuman was born in Buena Vista, Ohio, a tiny farming hamlet in the rural Appalachian corner of the state. “We literally grew up in a holler,” she said. Her father, a musician, left when she was a child. As a young woman, she parlayed a self-published coupon-clipping newsletter into a recurring segment as the Coupon Queen on a nationally syndicated TV news program called “P.M. Magazine,” after the producer dispatched to do a story on her got lost. “I ended up on camera, presented the stuff,” she said. “My attitude was ‘No one knows this better than me.’ ” In 1983, however, she was badly injured in a car accident and lost her spot on the show during her recovery.
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