It’s official! Certified kosher medical marijuana (or pot, to some) will now be available soon courtesy of Vireo Health of New York, according to the Albany Times Union. The company announced on Wednesday that they have received kosher certification from the Orthodox Union (OU), the preeminent organization which decides what can be called kosher.
According to Vireo’s official website, OU’s symbol will appear on medical marijuana products such as oils, capsules, and vaporization cartridges. Qualifying patients will be able to purchase the products at the company’s New York retail dispensaries in Queens, Albany, White Plains, and Binghamton. They are set to open in January.
“Being certified kosher by the OU will not only help us serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States, but also combat unfortunate stigmas associated with medical cannabis,” said Ari Hoffnung, Vireo’s CEO, who added that no one should be ashamed to use marijuana prescribed by their doctor.
Hoffnung continued, “Today’s announcement sends an important message to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds that using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering does not in any way represent an embrace of ‘pot’ culture.”
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of OU, mentioned that herbs, fruit, vegetables, and plants are usually kosher at harvest. The process of determining if pot was kosher is no different than certifying food for the same reason.
“In a life or death situation, Jewish law clearly sets aside the kosher status of a medicine,” said Elefant. “In other cases, it is preferable and sometimes recommended that a medicine be certified kosher.”
The use of medical marijuana is considered acceptable by Jewish law. Rabbi J. David Bleich, a medical ethicist at Yeshiva University, approves as well, but has given warnings about smoking pot for recreational uses. However, Bleich referenced Judaism’s 613 Mitzvot (or Commandments) and noted that recreational pot use isn’t such a major offense.
“I can’t tell you the 614th mitzvah is thou shalt not smoke pot,” said Bleich.
According to Vice News, OU’s decision to have certified kosher pot isn’t surprising considering that medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since 1999 and that some of the top rabbis there have approved of it.
Even before the announcement of certified kosher pot, the marijuana industry has had many Jewish connections.
One of the people who rallied for the legalization of weed in Colorado in 2012 was Ean Seeb, a regional board member of the Anti-Defamation League and the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, according to the Jewish Daily Forward. Legalization of marijuana for progressive Jews is seen as a social justice issue because otherwise law-abiding citizens have been criminalized for pot use under U.S. drug policy.
Justin Hartfield, a then 23-year-old college dropout of of Jewish heritage, started the company Weedmaps in 2007. The Jewish Daily Forward described the company as “a kind of Yelp for cannabis,” and has about four million people per month using their website and app to find stores selling marijuana, as well as prices and store reviews. Weedmap’s revenues have since been estimated to be around $30 million, and the company has donated $1 million to form a political action committee to rally for the legalization of marijuana in California during the 2016 election.
In Colorado, chef Joshua Pollack, who owns Rosenberg’s Bagels in Denver, has experimented with using pot in recipes for traditional Jewish foods like matzoh balls and chopped liver, according to Haaretz.
Pollack famously attempted to cure lox (smoked salmon) in a marijuana solution for a 4/20 celebration in 2015. The fish was described as having a strong pot smell, and Pollack said that if one consumed it on a bagel, they would get “a really nice, mellow high.”
“The flavor is really great, not that weed brownie flavor that you try to cover up with chocolate,” said Nicholas Bruno, Rosenberg’s general manager at the time of the celebration.
All this talk about certified kosher pot could be summed up by Joshua Pollack, “There’s something inherent in Judaism about cannabis use.”
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