Cheryl Shuman gets her 15 minutes of New York Times fame in Sunday's Magazine. It's a soft feature ("The Cannabis Queen of Beverly Hills") that barely touches on the controversies that have made her the most divisive figure in the cannabis community.
Dressed in an elegant blue gown and sitting on a plush red couch in the photo, Shuman looks the part of a Hollywood diva. The founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club uses the occasion to tout the Vapormax vape pen at a dinner party near Sunset Blvd.
Shuman's history, as told by the story's author Theodore Ross, goes back to her Appalachiana roots in Buena Vista, Ohio. She grew up hawking store coupons and was dubbed the Coupon Queen. After a car accident and failed marriage, Shuman picked up with her daughter Aimee and drove to Los Angeles, where they lived in the car for three weeks.
Her next title (Shuman loves hyperbolic titles that describe her activities) was "Optician to the Stars." This came on the heels of her holding a $5-an-hour job at an eyeglass store Encino. Next thing she was on movie sets fitting stars for glasses. One of the stars was Steven Seagal, who she became romantically involved with. However, Seagal was married to Kelly LeBrock at the time.
In 1994, Shuman sued Seagal for employment discrimination, sexual harassment and breach of contract. In court documents, Shuman admitted to having a four-month affair with the hunky actor famous for his action films, and maintained that Seagal "threatened her" after she told A Current Affair that he beat LeBrock up. "There's not a doubt in my mind that he hurt her," she says in the clip below. "And not just once, but I'm sure many times over the years."
Seagal denied the charges. Shuman has said that she was assaulted by Seagal's henchmen shortly after the A Current Affair segment aired. Disfigured and afraid, she assumed a new identity, but was caught and spent time in jail. That's the Cheryl Shuman the Times fails to reveal.
Shuman's entrance in the marijuana scene dates back to 2009 when she talked NORML into letting her form the Beverly Hills chapter. But her abrasive style and constant need to promote herself rubbed NORML the wrong way, and soon they a stripped her of the chapter. That's when she started the Beverly Hill Cannabis Club.
In the Times article, NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre says, “Cheryl Shuman is always selling herself. When I see her fluffing it up on television, it drives me crazy. But she’s leading the discussion.”
He's too nice. Shuman seized the moment when women began infiltrating the marijuana movement. She branded herself "the Martha Stewart of Marijuana," started hawking products as if she was on QVC, and appeared in a slew of media stories and TV reports hyping the emergence of the so-called "stiletto stoner" and "Moms for Marijuana," another organization she had a falling out with. Though several board members left the organization in protest of her involvement, Shuman remains its executive director.
Shuman has been pretty much shunned the last few years, despite being erroneously named Activist of the Year by the Seattle Hempfest in 2013.
Now comes the New York Times feature, which surely will embolden Shuman, but will not likely silence her critics.
For several years, Shuman was telling everyone that she was working on a reality show. At the 2010 NORML Conference in Denver, Shuman asked if I'd like to be part of it. Since I was the first person in the marijuana media to criticize Shuman (this goes back to her poor behavior at HempCon in 2009), I had a good laugh. Cable networks spared us from having to sit through "High Society," which was going to be produced by Morgan Spurlock, by declining to pick up the show.
ADDENDUM - Jan. 12
Serra Frank, founding director of Moms for Marijuana International, sent me the following email after we posted this article: "It is incorrectly stated in your article that Moms for Marijuana and Cheryl Shuman had a falling out. She was appointed our Executive Director in May 2014 and she continues to lead our Public Relation department as well. I've already corrected this information with the media outlets who have mistakenly used your incorrect information. I would appreciate if you would correct this information in the article and cease printing information about Moms for Marijuana without determining the credibility of the statement."
I wrote back: "Would it be correct to say... Though several board members left the organization in protest of her involvement, Shuman remains its executive director."
Frank replied: "No, that would be very incorrect. Cheryl was voted in unanimously as Director of Public Relations in May 2013, and no one ever requested her to leave or be dismissed. None of our directors have ever voiced to me they are leaving because of her. Cheryl was appointed Executive Director in May 2014, and any logical mind can see she is leading the way in mainstream discussion of Cannabis. We are honored to have her. I understand that gossip spreads stories, but most of what is out there in relation to Cheryl Shuman and Moms for Marijuana is simply not true. A lot of it falls under the category of libel, and defamation of character, which are criminal offenses in all 50 states. Which very adequately explains why the information is not on websites that hold themselves to the high standards of legitimate journalism. I appreciate you making the correction."
According to an article posted at Toke Signals in 2013, several members of Moms for Marijuana resigned from their positions - including assistant executive director Candace Junkin - due to disagreements with Shuman. Frank says Junkin was dismissed. Read for yourself here.
Following posting this Addendum, Frank sent me the following email: "Steve Elliot's pieces are hate articles that have no truth or merit and violate Washington State law. There is absolutely no evidence supporting the lies of the stories he published. No one resigned because of Cheryl and nothing else that was said is true, and there isn't anything but hearsay to support it. It's from the mouths of women who refused to do the job they signed up for and got mad when their empty titles were taken away. In a court of law, it holds no weight. It's libel and illegal and it will be dealt with in the appropriate venue.
"You and I have never met and I had hoped your journalism was professional. To associate yourself with dirty journalism, and refuse to adequately research the story, brings the credibility of your website down to very low depths. Especially in regards to the organization of someone you do not know anything about. I'm highly disappointed to learn that you do not hold your work to high standards of journalistic integrity. A real media outlet would promptly correct their mistake.
"I can never share your work with our networks again and must discourage others from sharing it as well. I cannot suggest anyone follow something with so little credibility, when most people are already trying to determine what is true about Marijuana because of reefer madness. It's behavior like that which makes reform more difficult. If you are willing to share lies like Steve Elliot's articles, especially after being informed it is incorrect, there is no way to know if anything else you publish is credible."