Answering to a Higher Authority: Kosher Pot


Hebrew National, a brand known for its kosher-certified hot dogs and processed meats, claims its products meet a higher standard with the beguiling slogan, “We answer to a higher authority.”  Can the marijuana industry have the same claim to fame?

Kosher marijuana could be available in New York State before the next High Holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification agency, said he has held “preliminary discussions” with several companies interested in obtaining a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana.

Marijuana products would have to follow strict dietary law, meeting the highest standards for quality, cleanliness, and safety with no by-products, artificial flavors, or artificial colors. Being kosher-certified means a product is fit to use in any application in a manner that conforms to the kosher laws rooted in Biblical and Rabbinic traditions. Cannabis itself doesn’t need a kosher certification since it is a plant, but other forms of the drug — pills, capsules, foods, and drinks — would need the designation for use by Orthodox Jews.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act last year, which is one of the more restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country. The Orthodox Jewish community (Jews that try to obey and follow all the rules in Judaism) in New York State may have embraced marijuana in part because ending suffering trumps all other Jewish laws, which is why a sick patient is not expected to fast on Yom Kippur. If the medical community determines that marijuana is an effective treatment for pain, Jewish law in theory raises no objections to its use for anesthetic purposes.

Some Jewish scholars interpret halacha, or Jewish law, to mean that if the drug is administered to relieve suffering and bring healing to the sick, then the person giving it is “performing a mitzvah,” or good deed, and the person using the medicine is using it “in a kosher fashion.” Judaism also has a legal concept of pikuach nefesh (health and life trumps all), meaning that if cannabis can cure disease or alleviate pain, it is kosher.

The potential stamp of approval from the Orthodox Union might apply solely to medical marijuana for now but it could also include pot that eventually finds its way to recreational users, since certifying certain food products infused with hemp will meet kosher standards.  (Although Orthodox rabbis appear to have accepted the medical benefits of cannabis, they remain cautious about recreational marijuana.)

With the kosher food market growing at double-digit rates annually, many companies realize it is time to expand their cannabis market and invest in kosher certification. Kosher supervision in America is made up of a complex web of hundreds of certifying agencies. There are many intricacies to Jewish dietary laws that will require oversight from the certifying authority, from lighting plant boilers to the materials used for manufacturing equipment. Some experts estimate the kosher industry to be a $100 million business.

The War on Drugs is a value American Jews do not identify with since it symbolizes oppression, ignorance, fear, racism, prejudice, and social inequality, all dastardly things Jews have experienced throughout history.

I urge the anti-pot establishment to halt their kvetching (complaining) and take a look at the religious view cited above surrounding medical marijuana. Marijuana is arguably safer than Manischewitz wine, and it should be treated that way.