Cheryl Shuman is a big personality. She has been called the First Lady of Cannabis and the Martha Stewart of Marijuana and her own publicity labels her as a ‘Public Relations powerhouse’. On the face of things, she is the epitome of the American dream, a person who has risen from extreme poverty to rattle the gates of Beverly Hills, accumulating the trappings of wealth and celebrity along the way.
To say that Cheryl Shuman has had a colorful life is an understatement. For all the highs there have been intense lows, both physical and emotional. On more than one occasion she has stared death in the face and come out the other side, stronger and more determined. She is known around the world because of her association with cannabis and yet she never even tried it until she was in her mid-thirties.
As the founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club she is perhaps the most glamorous activist you will ever meet. Google her and you will find her driving Ferraris and hanging out in ostentatious places – and when she walks into a room, heads naturally turn. She fully appreciates the power of celebrity and it has been her ability to harness this power that makes her such a potent – albeit unconventional – activist for cannabis in the social media era.
She established her celebrity credentials early in her career, as one-time personal optician to Michael Jackson and the optician to the stars who kitted out Arnold Schwarzenegger with his distinctive biker shades in the 1984 film Terminator, playing a part in turning Arnie, not to mention cyborg assassins from the future, into pop cultural icons.
As well as having a black book bursting with celebrity friends’ numbers, Cheryl is also a very successful businesswoman. She’d made her first million by the age of 21, off the back of a national TV show and as optician to the stars, more success came from having a show on the QVC shopping channel. In her present business Incarnation she has been blazing a trail across the Green Rush landscape that has accompanied cannabis legalization in the USA.
Weed World caught up with her in Prague to discover more about her work with cannabis and the integral role it has played in her very eventful life. One thing that strikes you about Cheryl very quickly is just how personable she is and her ability to connect with people which, one suspects, has much to do with the fact that she has seen the view from the very top, but also from the very bottom.
The celebrity trappings of Cheryl Shuman Inc. are a world away from where she started out, born as she was into a farming family in the rural region of Appalachia, one of the poorest counties in America. One of her earliest memories is eating mustard sandwiches because there was so little food available at home. Says Cheryl, “Forbes magazine did the first big feature story on my work with the title “Beverly Hillbilly” Some people thought I should be angry and insulted by the title. I’m very proud of my humble beginnings and believe strongly that the American Dream is still possible for everyone that has the passion and drive to make things happen and become successful.”
Her first encounter with weed came as a 34-year-old soccer mom (albeit a glamorous one) with two young daughters in the mid-1990s. It was her therapist who first recommended she try weed. “I was in a very bad time of my life,” she explains. “I was suffering the effects of PTSD after being sexually assault by a client. I had been prescribed a number of prescriptive drugs which had stabilized my mood but I was walking around like a zombie. My therapist said to me one day ‘don’t take this the wrong way but you really need to smoke a joint’.”
She laughs as she describes her initial reaction of shock. “I had always been a goody two shoes. I had never drunk or smoke. At this stage in my life I was a soccer mom, a member of the PTA, just as straight as you could be. My therapist rolled a joint for me and had to show me how to smoke it, but after three puffs something happened. I started laughing.”
That day changed her life…. for the first time. She still can’t roll a joint herself (“especially not with these nails,” she laughs), but for the next two years used weed to cope with her PTSD issues. “I was a different person, or should I say I became the person I used to be. I remember my daughters were so happy, ‘we got our mum back’ they’d sing.”
Enriched by this experience, she felt the first stirrings of desire to actively promote the medicinal benefits of cannabis, motivated too by its widespread use amongst patients swept up in the terrifying AIDS epidemic which was ravaging the country at the time. “I began to research the history of the plant,” explains Cheryl, “and realized that we had been lied to by the government about the benefits of cannabis as a medicine. It wasn’t ‘The Devil’s lettuce’ or the evil that propaganda campaigns like the Reefer Madness movie claimed. I became obsessed with working politically and with media strategy to bring this issue to the forefront.”
Part of this strategy was founding the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club in 1996. The club still grabs headlines around the world thanks to its celebrity association and high style – such as offering $150,000 vapes and $500 Cannagars (cigars packed with cannabis) for sale! However, the club also provides consultation on legalization and mentors young businesses (and especially those headed by women) looking to enter the cannabis market.
This article originally appeared here in https://www.weedworldmagazine.org/2019/07/31/a-list-cannabis-activist-with-a-hollywood-story-by-che-capri/