In 1971, President Richard Nixon was busy opening America to China, funneling money to anti-Marxist factions in Chile, and, you know, bugging the offices of his political opponents in an attempt to systematically shut down any threats to his second-term reelection. At some point within that very busy year, Dick managed to find the time to shoot the shit with Bob Haldeman, his Chief of Staff, about a plant that, of late, had become a fixture in the lint-filled pockets of any self-respecting hippie: weed.
"You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish," Nixon opined. "What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists."
As a member of the tribe, I take offense at the notion that there's anything wrong with my people, but I have to admit that Tricky Dick's comment has turned out to be surprisingly prescient. Not only is the state of Israel the world leader in medical marijuana—it first approved prescription pot way back in 1992, and the industry is currently worth about $40 million dollars—but it's actually true that many of today's most outspoken advocates for legalization are Jewish. Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, and former High Times columnist Ed Rosenthal are just a few of the prominent Jews pushing to decriminalize the drug.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise that the non-observant would want to be able to enjoy their pot in peace. But when, earlier this week, the world's largest kosher certification agency announced that it would be perfectly willing to give the A-OK to medical edibles, it produced a bit more of an oy gevalt! reaction.
On Monday, Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Orthodox Union (OU) told The Jewish Daily Forward that he has had "preliminary discussions" with companies looking for kosher certification of medical marijuana products. Such certification would likely occur first in New York City, home to the country's largest Jewish population. Per Governor Andrew Cuomo's Marijuana Policy Project, which made New York the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, patients will not be able to smoke weed; rather, prescription pot will come in pill, food, or beverage form. That will likely make edibles a very attractive option for manufacturers, who will no doubt want to include New York's nearly one million Jews by providing kosher options.
Rabbi Elefant told MUNCHIES that the OU has absolutely no problem certifying foods containing weed, as long as they're for medical, and not recreational, purposes. In fact, he said, of all the foods the OU certifies, pot is a "fairly innocuous ingredient."
"Marijuana is a grass, and anything that grows from the ground is inherently kosher," Elefant explained. As such, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and grains do not need to be certified. "Anything that God produces is the most kosher," he said.
Elefant was quick to stress that the OU doesn't endorse recreational use of weed. "The OU is not taking a stand on smoking marijuana," he said. He said that the Jewish religion prioritizes health, and urges its adherents to take good care of their minds, souls, and bodies. Framed in that way, Elefant said, there is no reason why marijuana should be unacceptable as a medication.
"Judaism is insistent upon the fact that we take care of ourselves," he said. "So if a doctor prescribes marijuana, there's no reason not to take it."
Elefant said that he had been in touch with only one company so far, a beverage company that already has manufacturing facilities in other states. He said that no certification could begin until New York begins handing out licenses for medical marijuana-producing facilities, a process that Elefant has been told will begin next month. Although medical marijuana is already legal elsewhere in the US, Elefant said he believed any companies interested in producing kosher edibles would establish their businesses in New York before looking to certify in other states.
"New York is going to be your primary market," he said.
Claire Grusin Kaufmann is an activist who recently co-founded the drug policy reform organization Le'Or with her husband Roy. She's all for kosher edibles, she told MUNCHIES, but added that the Jewish conversation about legalization is one that has a far wider scope.
"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."
But because of Jews' long history supporting human rights causes, she said, it's imperative that Jews contribute to changing policies that currently result in the arrests of around 750,000 people each year.
"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 said. "What's un-kosher is the war on drugs."