Brouhaha over whether dagga is kosher

  • Kosher dope HOME
Is medical pot kosher? A storm has erupted as applications are submitted for hechsherim. Yes says the US's OU. No says Canada’s KCC, but that country’s “Kosher Check” differs. The SA Beth Din says maybe, but they have never been asked to rule on it. Some say it matters how it is ingested. And what about recreational use, we asked our own Beth Din. It all started after the US Orthodox Union granted the first hechsher for the use of medical dope this month and Canada said it wasn’t necessary. A fascinating read if ever there was one…
by ANT KATZ | Jan 19, 2016

Kosher authorities in the US and Canada are at sixes and sevens on the question of whether edible dagga is kosher. More specifically, the issue relates to the increasingly acceptable use of medical marijuana (MM), both legally and societally. The test cases on the kashrus of its use in the two countries both apply to the use of MM in oil form.

While smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes has previously passed muster with numerous halachic authorities, once it is reduced to an edible form, it raises many new questions.

The squabble all started after the US State of New York decided to allow the use of MM from the beginning of this month on a trial basis. One enterprising manufacturer had his product certified kosher by getting a hechsher (kosher seal of approval) from the US Orthodox Union (OU), the equivalent of the SA Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS).

kosher dope2

RIGHT: A spoof of the Canadian flag with the maple leaf replaced by that of a cannabis plant

MM has been legal in Canada for some time, and with that country having one of the highest per capita Jewish populations outside Israel, a Canadian producer, MedReleaf, asked their own Kashruth Council of Canada (KCC) to urgently consider an application for a hechsher as well.

At their first meeting of the year, the rabbis of KCC met and decided that the point is moot, because if it's medicine, it doesn't matter. But pundits differ on whether that is a correct interpretation of halacha, or Jewish dietary law, which essentially says that any life-saving medicine or medicinal practice (such as driving a woman in labour to hospital on Shabbos) over-rides any halachic law.

This affects SA Jewry too

The matter affects many among the SA Jewish community who import edible forms of MM even though it is not legal locally.

Kosher dope jokeSo Jewish Report decided to investigate and asked our own Beth Din. And while we were at it, we asked if common or garden dagga is considered kosher when smoked recreationally?

Rabbi Anton Klein, director of the Beth Din of Johannesburg, told Jewish Report this week that the Beth Din (ecumenical court) “has not been approached to give a hechsher for MM, so there is no official Beth Din policy on the kashrut of MM, nor is there likely to be one until such time that the Beth Din is asked in an actual case not just in theory.”

Regarding the question of smoking pot, said Rabbi Klein, “the BD does not condone breaking SA laws.”

Cannabis, dagga, pot, gunja, weed, marijuana... call it what you may, MM has been used for decades as a proven medication, smoked or imbibed in oil or other edible forms, to relieve symptoms of chronic and terminal illnesses dozens of woes ranging from multiple sclerosis to migraine and cancer pains and even epilepsy. It is also used to ease the side-effects of treatments of cancer and other illnesses.

After "a lot of interplay and exchange," to discuss an urgent local application, Canada’s KCC decided that the Jewish faith doesn't require sick people to consume kosher medicine, said managing director Richard Rabkin. 

Marijuana HOMEThe designation was, therefore, moot, said Rabkin.

Not so moot, however, say others who have ruled over the past week. While the use of MM does improve quality of life, it has no proven life-saving or remedial attributes. Different halachic authorities apply differing definitions to this. 

Debate sparked

"Something that is medicine, that's prescribed from your doctor, that you need to take for your health, that doesn't need kosher certification," he said after the meeting. "We don't really want to get into the business of providing kosher certification for something that is doctor-prescribed. We're not going to go down that path."

Neil Closner of MedReleaf, himself a kosher-observant Jew, said after the hearing he was proud his company pushed the KCC to consider the issue. He acknowledged that some medical cannabis users might prefer to consume kosher pot, but he said a conversation with a rabbi should alleviate their concerns.

While smoking of MM was in widespread use in Canada, it only became a kosher issue after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last July overturned the country’s laws against consuming edible pot.

But not all kosher certification agencies agree with KCC’s decision on edible MM. Kosher Check, a global certification agency headquartered in Canada, debated the issue two years ago and decided in favour of certifying edible medical pot products. 

Smoking is okay, eating isn’t

Rabbi Mendy Feigelstock said while preservation of life does come before all else in Judaism, his organisation had decided it would be helpful to offer a kosher choice for those who want it.

kosher dope1Rabbi Feigelstock said that dried marijuana that is smoked is automatically considered kosher since it is a plant.

However, edible products including oils, capsules and cookies would need to be certified.

"There are people who are suffering and unfortunately sometimes the only medication left for them is marijuana, which could ease their symptoms, and to force a person to smoke it seems silly," he said.

"If it's easier to ingest it either in an oil or some other edible, then there's no reason why that person should not be able to ingest it kosher, if that's something that they're careful about."

Kosher Check's Richard Wood said that when certifying an edible pot product, inspectors would look for issues including insect infestation in plants, equipment that is used for multiple purposes or capsules that use gelatine produced from a non-kosher animal slaughter.

The KCC’s Rabkin said, however, there's a principle in Judaism that the preservation of human life overrides other religious concerns. If one must consume something non-kosher to survive - or, in the case of medical marijuana, to relieve pain or seizures - one can and should do so.

Read more about it

Jewish Report Online published the story “First kosher dagga on market in January” last month. Since then, controversy and disagreement has abounded - and the debate is certainly on. In fact, the kashrus of cigarette smoking is being called into question too!

1 Comment

  1. 1 Mr.alibekov mapat 11 Mar
    I never knew cannabis oil was indeed wonderful and very effective in treating cancer’ if 
    not for the government and their so called rules in regulating cannabis my Dad would have still been alive. thanks to the newly policy for legalizing cannabis in my state i would have still lost my son to kidney cancer, i was really touched and surprised when i watch 
    lots of documentary on how cannabis oil had helped lot of people whom their family members never thought they could make it after undergoing several ”Chemo” from the dept of my heart 

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