As Californians prepare to vote Tuesday on a statewide initiative to legalize marijuana, The Jewish Journal, Los Angeles’s Jewish weekly, features a cover story on whether legal pot is good for the Jews.
The answer, in brief: the rabbis are ambivalent.
Rabbi Elliot Dorf, professor of ethics and Jewish law at the American Jewish University, says that, “on the one hand,” Judaism forbids drugs that harm the body, because “God owns our bodies.” But “on the other hand,” marijuana “may be more akin to alcohol” – for example, Manischewitz concord grape wine. And of course the Jewish God has no problem with that.
Harriet Rossetto, fonder and CEO of Beit T’Shuvah, a drug treatment center “founded on Jewish spirituality,” told the Jewish Journal that, on the one hand, “for a lot of addicts, marijuana is a gateway drug.” But of course there is “on the other hand”: “criminalization creates another set of issues that exacerbate the problem.”
Then there is the “pot prince” of L.A.’s Jewish community, Matthew Cohen, also profiled in the Jewish Journal. His legal medical marijuana dispensary, The Natural Way of L.A., claims to carry “the best-quality product in the world.” “Jews know good pot,” Cohen said.
Ed Rosenthal is another Jew prominent in the legalize-it movement. Rosenthal has published several books on how to grow marijuana and writes a column for High Times magazine, “Jews have a special affinity for marijuana,” he told the Jewish Journal. “It’s an intellectual drug, not a drug that takes you outside your senses like alcohol or opiates.”
And, he added, “a lot of marijuana research comes out of Israel.”
Another prominent L.A. Jew on the pot landscape is Allison Margolin, described in the Jewish Journal as “L.A.’s dopest attorney.” A graduate of Temple Emanuel Academy Day School (and then Columbia, followed by Harvard Law), she is one of the most recognizable criminal defense attorneys in marijuana cases. Her father, attorney Bruce Margolin, has been in court on behalf of marijuana defendants for 40 years. She’s a prominent advocate of the legalize-it initiative.
The only real danger posed by pot, she told the Jewish Journal, is “obesity – because people get the munchies.”
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legalization, spoke recently at a San Francisco Reform synagogue about California’s ballot proposition. “Is this good for the Jews?” he asked, and answered “It’s good for individual values and social justice, so yes, it’s good for the Jews. The alternative—the war on drugs—is grounded in ignorance, fear, prejudice and profit, values one would like to believe are anathema to Jews.”
As far as official Jewish organizations go, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution in 2003 supporting medical marijuana and called on Reform congregations to support legalization for medical purposes. But Reform Judaism does not support California’s legalize-it proposition, and neither do any other Jewish denominations.