Photo: ANYA ULINICH/forward.com
Things are starting to look up for the nearly 6.5 million Jewish citizens currently living in New York. Several Colorado companies have visited New York recently to meet with members of the Orthodox Union (OU) and discuss the possibility of bringing kosher marijuana edibles to the state by next year, according to The Jewish Daily Forward.
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of the OU’s kosher certification agency, told the Forward that there would be no problems in certifying the use of marijuana edibles because of the medical benefits that it could bring to Orthodox Jews.
Out of the constantly expanding medical marijuana industry in the U.S., one of the most versatile products to be commoditized is the edibles industry. However, many patients who enjoy the delicious benefits that marijuana edibles offer have to be careful due to dietary restrictions, sometimes forcing them to receive their medication in other forms.
“We found it fascinating actually,” said Elefant, “and we believe there’s room for this in the world of kosher certification.”
The agencies are working together to follow the strict regulations under New York State’s Compassionate Care Act, passed last July by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Under these new regulations, medical marijuana patients in New York will be able to receive their medication; however, they are restricted from smoking the plant. This forces manufacturers in the state to convert the marijuana into some form of consumable (i.e. oils, liquids, capsules, or edibles).
Although this may be a simple rule to navigate for non-Jewish patients, Orthodox Jews must adhere to kosher dietary laws.
While marijuana as a plant is inherently kosher and doesn’t require any form of blessing, any and all edibles created from the substance must be properly prepared and blessed in order to receive the kosher stamp of approval. Elefant is quite sure that there should be no problem justifying the use of medical marijuana to doctor-approved Jewish patients.
“Judaism is insistent upon the fact that we take care of ourselves,” Elefant explains. “So if a doctor prescribes marijuana, there’s no reason not to take it.”
While the OU seems to be supportive of the new push for kosher edibles in New York, Elefant stressed that the agency doesn’t fully endorse the use of marijuana in a recreational manner. Rabbi J. David Bleich, an expert on Medical Ethics from Yeshiva University, explains that when marijuana is used for medical purposes it’s considered to be “a perfectly acceptable use of a plant that grows in God’s garden.” However, if used in a recreational fashion, then it is considered “pleasure for pleasure’s sake,” which according to Bleich is “certainly not that to which a Jew should aspire.”
In fact, there are still some Jewish religious leaders who oppose the legalization of marijuana altogether. Last February, Dr. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a fellow member of the OU, posted on the website for the Orthodox Union warning the Jewish community about “the increasing problem of alcohol abuse and marijuana smoking among Jewish adolescents.” Overall the OU has declined to take an official stance on the issue. Other Orthodox groups, like the Rabbinical Council of America and Agudath Israel of America, have yet to take a stance on either the medical or recreational uses of marijuana.
Despite this, the marijuana legalization movement is filled to the brim with Orthodox Jewish supporters. Israel is currently one of the leaders of the world in medical marijuana sales, having legalized medical marijuana in 1992, building the industry to be worth about $40 million and having more than 11,000 people currently licensed to receive legal medical marijuana. Additionally, some big Jewish figures in the American entertainment industry such as Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman are using their influence to support the decriminalization and legalization movements.
Claire Grusin Kaufmann, a marijuana legalization activist and recent co-founder of the drug policy reform organization Le’Or, explains that despite the uncertainty in the Jewish community there is much more to the conversation than is being revealed.
“A lot of community leaders and rabbis are really afraid to talk about it,” Kaufmann said. “But Behind closed doors, this is something that many of them support.”
Kaufmann aims to show that there is more of an ethical issue going on with the marijuana legalization process, and that support from the Orthodox Jewish community is one of ethical duty rather than simply feeling good.
“When one in every 15 African-American men is incarcerated, often for non-violent crimes like possessing or selling small amounts of marijuana, that is un-kosher,” Kaufmann explains. “What’s un-kosher is the war on drugs.”
And while there may be an overlying ethical issue involved that could violate Orthodox standards, Rabbi Elefant seems to be fairly interested in helping those who are sick to regain their health. The OU has denied similar kosher approval requests from cigarette and e-cigarette companies, claiming them to be unhealthy and detrimental to the overall well-being of Orthodox Jews. But in regards to medical marijuana, Elefant said that the agency “would not have a problem certifying” edible marijuana products. Marijuana, according to the religious leader, is considered a “fairly innocuous ingredient” compared to the other foods that the Orthodox Union certifies to be kosher approved.
Overall, the certification and marketing of legal kosher marijuana edibles could not only allow for Jewish New York citizens to receive the medical marijuana they require for whatever illness may be ailing them, it may also boost the sales of the products as a whole due to the large population of Orthodox Jews in the state. The Colorado firm and the Orthodox Union hope to have these new kosher treats on shelves by next year, hopefully bringing with it a new wave of support for the legalization movements.
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