All photos courtesy of Cheryl Shuman
Cheryl Shuman, marijuana activist, cancer survivor, and former “Optician to the Stars,” is a true dynamo. Aside from being the face of Moms for Marijuana, the largest activism group for women in the industry — boasting more members than NORML, WAMM, and Women Grow combined — the 57-year-old mother of two began utilizing the power of social media (long before selfies were a thing) to change the way the world perceives women who use cannabis, as well as help families torn apart by legal persecution.
“Moms for Marijuana was founded by a young lady named Serra Frank, an alias she used at the time [around 2005] to protect herself because she was living in Idaho, an illegal state,” Shuman told me. “She started Moms for Marijuana on a Myspace page, which had about 5,000 followers at that point, and reached out to me because I was an activist. I had such a great experience with cannabis. Through the use of cannabis products, I went from dying in hospice care with ovarian cancer to full remission, able to go out and kick ass again,” referencing how she stopped chemo and instead used THC and CBD products to treat her cancer symptoms.
She continued, “To me, it was a spiritual awakening, I felt that whatever it is that’s connecting all of us has given me a second chance, and it’s my obligation to change the world. It was really about coming out of the closet as a cannabis consumer, and breaking through that glass ceiling.”
Shuman alongside fellow cannabis advocate Whoopi Goldberg before she appeared on 'The View.'
Before becoming involved in the cannabis industry, Shuman made a fortune as the “Optician to the Stars,” on movie and television sets, working with everyone from Tom Cruise and Madonna to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. “You name it,” she said. “I was the girl. But then I got cancer, and basically came back to my home state of Ohio to die because I wanted to be with my family. It was bad, really bad. When I got through it, I packed up and went back to California to start a pot farm and smoke pot for the rest of my life, thinking for god sakes, I’m going to die with a smile on my face. I just don’t trust doctors anymore.”
Back in California, she began researching Prohibition as a way to reform cannabis legislation, specifically studying the life of Pauline Sabin. “Women were actually credited with ending Prohibition, and it was Pauline Sabin that was the leader of this group of women who do lunch. I read everything I could, and I thought, what does she have that I don’t have?” It was then Shuman founded the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, basically Tupperware parties but for cannabis where Beverly Hills women would gather to learn about the latest trends in marijuana. The club became wildly popular in a matter of months, catching the attention of CBS News anchor Nicolette Medina. What started off as a minute-long local news piece became a national, seven minute segment that went viral. “Towards the end of shooting, Medina asked why I did this. Marijuana makes me a better mom, and quite frankly, a better human being. I’m kinder, gentler, and anyone who knows me will tell you that,” said Shuman. “After the viral attention, my phone just started ringing off the hook.”
Believing strongly in the power of social media, Shuman, who funds Moms for Marijuana completely out of pocket, bought Serra Frank a computer to expand the organization’s following through various platforms, as Shuman began making regular television appearances talking about the importance of marijuana moms coming out of the closet. “I wanted them to know they’re not alone. Don’t be afraid you’re going to get caught, don’t be afraid you’re going to lose your kids. Together we’re stronger. We will help you,” she said. “Then it was a firestorm, a hurricane, and a tornado all together. We just got avalanched by people. It was really cool.”
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Shuman
Moms for Marijuana currently boasts 550,840 Facebook followers, close to five times more than NORML Women’s Alliance (87,880) and Women Grow (25,555) combined. Aside from normalizing marijuana use in the mainstream, the biggest issue Moms for Marijuana deals with is children being taken away from their parents because of minor marijuana infractions.
“It’s so wrong,” says Shuman. “Welfare people get a $5000 bonus to their budgets for every marijuana child they place because they’re the easiest ones to find homes for. Marijuana children are easier to adopt out than heroin children because they’re rarely damaged. It’s a kids-for-cash program,” she tells me. “Many times, it’s single moms with little help, battered women leaving abusive men who are further victimized. So we try to help people with legal fees. If they have a Go Fund Me page, we’ll send all our traffic to them and help fundraise. We have attorneys who volunteer with us, we just try to do whatever we can.”
Changing the way people perceive cannabis users has exploded as a topic of conversation in recent years, and Shuman is at the forefront of this dialogue. “I want to show people in media what freedom was like. What normal life was like being a mainstream person and using cannabis in place of Xanax or something else. Instead of Xanax I’m taking a puff of my vape pen. Now I’m going to work and I’m not a loser, I’m working on a movie set today. Successful celebrity people enjoy cannabis too. According to Adweek, women make 85% of all household decisions. Women have the power, and women are the secret to this whole thing. If you have the women on board, specifically the moms, that’s how we change the game.”
Shuman’s eternal optimism has recently led her in a new direction, helping to combat the opiate crisis in her home state of Ohio. By working with the University of Jerusalem and a Canadian company called Medipure, a new prescription-quality cannabis compound has been created, one that could take the place of more harmful replacements like Suboxone, while being covered by insurance. “It’s not synthesized cannabis, it’s cannabis at a molecular level,” she explained.
“The science of it is frankly a little above my head. I’m blonde, 57, and a stoner,” she laughed. “I’m an intelligent woman, but it’s mindblowing how complex it all is. But at this point I’m willing to do anything to help what’s happened to so many people in my hometown. It’s like being in the city of the walking dead. So when I found this company, I jumped on the opportunity to work with them. We have the research now where we can totally turn this around. We’re the tipping point, and for me that’s really exciting.”
Visit Cheryl Shuman's website to learn more about her many advocacy and activism efforts in the legal cannabis space.
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