Is marijuana kosher?
As Passover and 4/20 coincide in 2019, observant Jews want to know.
In 2019, the second night of the Jewish holiday of Passover falls on 4/20. That makes it more fitting than ever to address a query that, if some cannabis fans had their way, would be an addition to the traditional four questions that are asked at every Seder, the ceremony and ritual feast that marks the beginning of the eight-day observance.
Namely, is marijuana kosher?
For an answer, Weedmaps News turned to Rabbi Raphael Leban, managing director of the progressive outreach organization The Jewish Experience in Denver, Colorado.
Q: Have you been asked before whether weed is kosher?
A: Let me put it this way. I have a very open constituency. As more of an outreach synagogue than a traditional one, we have thousands of people who turn to us for spiritual guidance. So, yes, the question does come up because we certainly have members for whom keeping kosher and enjoying Colorado's major cash crop is important.
Q: What, in a nutshell, do you tell them?
A: The Torah requires Jews to maintain a kosher diet, which precludes us from eating certain foods including pork and shellfish and eating meat and dairy together.
Kosher refers specifically to eating, so if one were smoking or vaping marijuana, that does not rub up against any issue of kashrut, or the laws around keeping kosher.
Additionally, if one were consuming cannabis by anointing one's skin with a lotion or swallowing a tasteless pill, neither of those is eating, so, again, those aren't a concern of kashrut.
When, however, we're talking about putting something in our mouth, in the form of drops, tinctures, edibles, or anything else that falls into the territory of eating, then we have a valid concern about whether what we're consuming is kosher.
As a plant itself, marijuana is kosher. No kasruth problem there. On the other hand, there might be kosher issues when additives or ingredients are used in preparation or processing.
For example, some red food dyes are made from crushed cochineal insects, and while insects are acceptable to the FDA, it's not to kashrut laws, so brownies made with this dye wouldn't be kosher.
Fortunately, the kosher-supervising industry is so robust in America today, that if you go to a supermarket anywhere in the country, you can find certified-kosher ingredients for whatever you need to make brownies or the edible of your choice.
Q: If I'm buying my edibles at a dispensary, how can I be sure they're kosher?
A: A person who's interested in observing the Jewish laws of keeping kosher would want to make sure that anything marijuana-related, just like anything they eat that's not marijuana-related, has been certified kosher by a reliable kosher agency.
[Note: Today, you can find kosher dispensaries in some cities, as well as online shops.]
Q: Going back to insects, what if there are tiny bugs on my marijuana buds?
A: Insects are a forbidden food, so those of us who are kosher are extremely meticulous in checking our food, particularly our salads and vegetables. If there are bugs in marijuana that you'll be eating in some form, that would be a problem. So you'd need to carefully check for bugs and get rid of every last one before using the marijuana as an ingredient in anything you're preparing.
Making sure that the marijuana that's used in any edibles is free from insects would be one of the criteria a rabbi with a kosher-certifying agency would consider as they approve products or oversee production.
Q: So, it's pretty easy for someone to keep kosher and enjoy marijuana?
A: I haven't commented on whether marijuana use is healthy or not — we'll leave that to the experts — but that's another issue that could arise. There's a commandment in the Torah that one must care for one's health, both physical and spiritual. Today, we all want to eat things that nourish us, that are healthy for us and that conform with our goals for our physical well-being.
A Jewish person who is in tune with kosher, also wants to make decisions about what they consume that conform with their spiritual health. Even though, according to the letter of the law, it may be acceptable to consume cannabis, that may not always confirm with our spiritual health goals, which are the spirit of the kosher laws.
Q: In the same way that drinking two bottles of kosher wine a night is not really kosher in the deeper sense of the word.
Q: So far the news about marijuana being kosher is good! But is it kosher for Passover?
A: I don't think there are really any additional issues that would arise for Passover. The Torah requires that during Passover we neither consume nor own anything that is chametz, a food product made from five forbidden grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt. Marijuana isn't a grain, so chametz prohibitions don't apply.
Ashkenazi Jews also avoid kitniyot, a group of foods that includes rice, corn, and certain types of legumes. Again, this doesn't apply to marijuana.
Q: One last question: can marijuana leaves be used on the Seder plate as a bitter herb?
A: The answer to that, in one word, is no.
Featured Image: Yes, we(ed) are. (Photo by Evan Grant via Flickr; used with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)
This post has been updated to clarify the role of The Jewish Experience.