Friday, January 8, 2016

First kosher medical marijuana to go on sale in New York

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isaiah 29:13

As reported by Ynet News, December 31, 2015 (bold in original):

A US pharmaceutical company announced Wednesday that its medical marijuana has been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU).

Vireo Health, one of the five companies permitted to market their medical marijuana in the State of New York stated that this is the first time medical cannabis has been certified kosher and as such it is in fact the first producer of kosher marijuana.

US media reported that the rabbinical association gave its certification after inspecting facilities manufacturing company's facilities and found that the marijuana is grown and produced according to the laws of kashrut. For example it is entirely free of insects.

"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 Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung in a statement delivered to the press.

He added that kosher marijuana will deliver an "important message" to those who mistakenly believe that use of the product for patients suffering from pain promotes recreational use of drugs.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, chief executive officer of the Orthodox Union, said that "using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as a chet, a sinful act, but rather as a mitzvah, an imperative, a commandment.”

Vireo expressed hope that the approval will help the company serve its Jewish patients in New York, where the largest Jewish community in the US lives. The product will be on the shelves in about a month, available with a doctor's prescription.

No kosher certification in Israel yet

The United States has seen a veritable revolution in recent years regarding the use of soft drugs. About half of US states allow the use of medical marijuana, and in 2012, two states, Washington and Colorado, legalized the sale of marijuana to those 21 and older without a doctor's prescription.

From a religious standpoint there should not be a problem certifying marijuana as kosher as it's a plant, and like all plants grown overseas, the laws of shmita (every seven years the land in Israel must lie fallow – ed.) and tithes do not apply. When they reach their natural form they are kosher for eating or smoking.

In Israel there are several manufacturers who market medical cannabis, but so far the Chief Rabbinate has not certified the product.
Jews in Trudeaupia need not worry about certification, as reported by Laura Kane of Canadian Press, January 8, 2016:

VANCOUVER—Is marijuana kosher? If it’s medicine, it doesn’t matter.

That’s the message from Canada’s largest kosher certification agency after its board of rabbis held a debate on whether to certify cannabis oils as kosher.

The Kashruth Council of Canada met Thursday to discuss an application from MedReleaf, a licensed producer of medical pot. The meeting followed news in the U.S. that a New York company would soon offer certified kosher medical cannabis products.

But after “a lot of interplay and exchange,” the Kashruth council decided the Jewish faith doesn’t require sick people to consume kosher medicine, said managing director Richard Rabkin.

“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 by phone 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.”

Kosher foods are those that conform to Jewish law, with strict guidelines on the types of foods that can be consumed and how they are prepared.

Rabkin said 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.

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.

Neil Closner, chief executive officer of MedReleaf, said he was proud his company pushed Kashruth to consider the issue.

“It was because of us that they even had this meeting,” he said. “We’re pleased with the outcome that from their perspective, (medical) cannabis is considered kosher for all consumers.”

Closner is Jewish and observes a kosher lifestyle. He said to his knowledge, no other companies in Canada currently offer kosher medical marijuana products and he had hoped MedReleaf would become the first. It has a licence to produce oils and expects to begin selling them in six to eight weeks.

He said he might consider seeking certification from another agency in the future, particularly if he expands into the recreational pot market.

In fact, not all kosher certification agencies agree with Kashruth on medical marijuana.

Kosher Check, a global kosher certification agency headquartered in British Columbia, debated the issue two years ago and decided in favour of certifying edible medical pot products.

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

He said dried marijuana that is smoked is automatically considered kosher since it is a plant. However, edible products including oils, capsules, brownies 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 business director Richard Wood said the organization had a few inquiries about kosher cannabis over the years but nothing had progressed to the certification stage.

He said 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 gelatin, which is produced from a non-kosher animal slaughter.

The issue of kosher pot is only coming to the forefront now in Canada because cannabis producers were banned from selling oils until last July, following a Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled medical cannabis patients have the right to consume edible pot.

Another licensed medical marijuana producer, Aurora, is also considering kosher certification. Chief brand officer Neil Belot said in an email that the company had been in touch with a prominent certification agency to discuss the possibility.
What if it's a sabbath year in Israel and the land is supposed to lie fallow? The rabbis have that covered, as reported by Akiva Novick of Ynet News, May 24, 2014:

An unusual halachic issue was place of the table of Israel's Chief Rabbinate recently: Is it permitted to consume marijuana on a shmita year – the seventh year in a seven-year cycle during which land in Israel must lie fallow.

The issue does not just apply to drug smokers, but mainly to patients in need of medical cannabis.

"I receive grass as a medication," explained M., a religious man who suffers from shell shock, in a letter to the Rabbinate. "The shmita year will begin in four months, and observant IDF disabled veterans have been asking themselves whether the grass should be grown differently like fruits and vegetables."

There are several methods to maintain the kashrut of fruits and vegetables which are halachically forbidden during the shmita year, but what about marijuana?

The question was referred to rabbis in the Religious Zionism movement, and most of them replied that because it is used as a medication and not as food, patients can continue consuming the plant.

And what about the consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes? The rabbis agreed unanimously that it is forbidden due to the halachic on smoking drugs.

"It’s like asking if one can drive 300 kilometers per hour on Shabbat," said Efraim Zalmanovich, the rabbi of the central Israeli town of Mazkeret Batya.

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