I first met Cheri in October 2012 at a National NORML Conference in Los Angeles, California. In wanting to broaden the horizons of The Austin420 into a more health-conscious type of publication, I couldn't think of anyone better to enlist. For those who have followed the Munchies 101 column, while we've gotten to know Cheri through that perspective, let's now take the time to get to know her through another for there is so much more to her advocacy than just the culinary arts.

AUSTIN420: What was your first experience with cannabis?

CHERI SICARD: My first ever in life is actually not that memorable, I was probably a teenager just at a party and it didn't do too much for me, when I started getting seriously involved with it, I was actually in my late 30's, other than that, it was rarely, occasionally in a social situation. I started using medicinally in my late 30's, my doctor had to recommend it "off the record" because the HMO he works for wouldn't allow it, but he did anyway and it changed my life, it fixed the problem, a chronic nausea problem I was having, and then fixed other problems I didn't even know I was taking it for, like life-long gastrointestinal problems disappeared, I was on anti-depressants which I decided I didn't need them anymore. So, it really changed things in a major way!

AUSTIN420: What was it that changed your views and perspective about cannabis?

CS: I had been raised like most of us with this indoctrination of "marijuana is horrible", so I was still worried that I was doing myself harm, and I was a food writer and just a writer in general, before that. I did a number of books on government and patriotism and things like that, so I just started doing research. What I found out shocked me; everything I had been told up to that point had been a lie. So once I started looking into it, I was like a sponge, I started to read everything I could, I went to OAKSTERDAM University. In the course of six months, I went from the typical closeted smoker to an outspoken advocate - haven't looked back ever since.

AUSTIN420: What was that one moment that got you involved in the reform movement?

CS: I remember being at OAKSTERDAM and watching Dale Jones teaching and then just thinking to myself on 'how amazing she is and how brave she is, and man, I could never be that open about marijuana use, I just don't think I could do that' and without realizing it, I became that person. The more you know the truth about it, the more it pisses you off. (laughs) And you just start speaking out and doing it. It just kind of evolved and I started off very cautiously because I wasn't comfortable in being that outspoken, but the more I learned the truth about it, the more it just made me angry. I cannot do something about this because it's just so wrong and that's how it was with cannabis. Before I knew it, I was entrenched in doing all this stuff (laughs) and was like 'Wow, when did that happen?'  

AUSTIN420: What was your first inspiration behind 'The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook'?

CS: As a writer, I had other books before I got into cannabis and was a food writer and a professional recipe developer, so getting into cannabis cooking was just kind of a natural evolution of that. When I started getting into cannabis, in my late 30's, like most people, I went to the Internet, how do I learn to cook with this and there's so much bad information and so much conflicting information that I didn't know what was the real thing to do, so I started doing my own testing and my own cooking with it. I really find that a lot of the recipes I had already written for other things worked well with cannabis, that it worked better with savory foods, real foods as opposed to just cookies and brownies, not that there's anything wrong with that. It was just a natural evolution of something I already was doing, I was already developing recipes and writing recipes for clients, publication in magazines and websites and things like that. I was used to writing recipes that were very consumer-friendly, recipes that taught people how to cook and put that power in their hands, so I wanted to do that with cannabis.  

AUSTIN420: Tell me about your latest book 'Mary Jane -The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women'.

CS:I'm very excited about this title as is the publisher who actually came to me and said, 'all those books out there, are for dudes - we need one that has an appeal to women'. Seal Press Books publishes books specifically for women by women, a lot of books that were out there, while they had a lot of great information the tone of it often turned them off, so they wanted something that appealed to women instead, that addressed issues that women were interested in relation to cannabis like parenting issues and women's health issues. But we also go into the fun stuff like pop-culture, movies and TV shows that feature 'Women in Weed', and music, things like that. So it's really a general guide, a great book, you're bound to learn some new things; it's not just for women but for anybody with an open mind.

AUSTIN420: What are you hoping for women advocates to take from this book?

CS: I hope that this book inspires some new women advocates, people that were like me that say 'I could never be that person that could speak out and make a difference'. I really hope to inspire new advocates that can be comfortable with the fact that they can make a big difference and the more of us that do speak out - the more things will change about cannabis legalization, rights, and getting our prisoners out of prison, because that is really one of my main causes that I advocate for is the people that are serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses. That just haunts me. As much as we hear people saying that 'we've won the drug war' or things like that, we haven't won as long as those people are still in. With the book, I hope to inspire more people to be able to feel comfortable enough to at least get involved and say - Yes, this has been a beneficial thing for me - and that our drug laws are wrong and we need to change them. So I hope the female activists we already have get something out of it, but mostly I hope this book inspires a whole new group of women involved in cannabis.

AUSTIN420: How do you see (from your perspective) the women of today's cannabis reform movement as compared to the women who were so intrinsic in ending Alcohol Prohibition?

CS: Oh, I see a lot of parallel's there. Alcohol Prohibition was both started and ended by women and I see that happening with cannabis. It's interesting, women seem to be really a driving force more than ever, not that there aren't a lot of great male activist, there are and they kind of got this movement started, but when you look around now, a lot of the people that are really starting to make a difference, are women. Even in a lot of activism efforts that I'm involved in for prison reform, it's women that are driving that, people like Amy Povah who started the Can-Do Foundation or people like Beth Curtis of Life for Pot, there's just women that are really driving forces in almost all the activism that I've been doing. You know I hear people say women around are not represented, I don't find that to be the case at all, women are well represented and are really in the forefront of the changes that we're seeing.

AUSTIN420: When you're not cooking or writing, what are the other forms of advocacy that fill your time?

CS: I'm Vice President for the Can-Do Foundation that stands for Clemency for All Non-Violent Drug Offenders and I got into that because I was just on my own doing a lot of advocacy for the prisoners that are serving life sentences. I started getting involved in this when I was first doing research and writing Mary Jane. I went to interview Randy Lanier, who has since been released, but served 27 years of a life sentence and his website was down and he didn't even know that. So I said to Randy, I'll make you a new website and I did and along the way, I started corresponding with more people serving life sentences. I did websites and advocacy for Paul Free, Craig Cesal, and Larry Duke who was also just released last week, so that was just amazingly good news, it doesn't get any better than that for an activist like me, but we still have a number of them in there and so, that's how I started. Then I became Vice-President of the Can-Do Foundation who was already advocating for prisoners. I've been working with the NORML Women's Alliance, up until this last year I was the L.A. County Leader, but things just have gotten so busy so we turned that over to another, but I'm still very involved with them and on the Board of Directors of Orange County NORML. So that's basically my advocacy efforts, so I would say I'm a general, all-around cannabis advocate with a focus on those prisoners serving life sentences.

AUSTIN420: In closing, when it comes to the culinary arts of cooking with cannabis, where do you see its future especially now as a number of states are pushing for legalization?

CS: The sky is the limit with that, but we have to be careful as advocates that we don't have overly restrictive legislation that keeps it from happening, but as long as it's legal, anything you see with regular food we're going to see with cannabis. Personally, I've worked as a consultant for edibles companies and businesses getting into the cannabis world. I'm developing a lot of interesting and innovative new products for this edibles company I'm working with and the other company I'm working with is doing a whole health & wellness system online that incorporates cannabis as part of the health & wellness lifestyle, so that patients can use this and be able to track it in their diet and have healthy cannabis recipe's as well, so those are two things I'm personally involved in. A lot of people turn to edibles who don't want to be smoking or inhaling it. It has so many uses on many different levels for patients all the way up to recreational. There's going to be so many job and business opportunities within the cannabis industry. I think we'll see that to be more prevalent as the more consumers get into cannabis. With edibles, people tend to start with cookies and brownies, but when you really start incorporating edibles into your daily routine or weekly routine, however you use them, people are going to want to get beyond just the sweet treats and have actual foods, healthy foods that also incorporate cannabis.

AUSTIN420: I'm looking forward to the Cannabis Cooking Network.

CS: (laughs) There's definitely interests, but a whole network, that would be wonderful! ~