Sunday, May 16, 2021

I was disturbed and horrified to read Rabbi Dr. Yosef Glassman’s article in last week’s Health Link (“It’s Not for ‘Recreation,’ but Cannabis Has Deep Torah Roots,” April 8, 2021). After espousing the age-old argument that cannabis is surely less dangerous than alcohol—remember, safer does not equal safe—Glassman goes on to suggest that cannabis has a place in Jewish ritual and culture both as a physical and even perhaps as a spiritual refuah. This attitude strikes me as incredibly dangerous to our community, particularly our youth.

With regard to cannabis for medicinal purposes, as set forth on the FDA website, “To date, the FDA has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition.” In fact, it is only CBD (the non-THC and non-psychoactive cannabinoid product derived from the cannabis plant) that the FDA has approved for certain treatments (i.e. for seizures associated with specific diseases). However, the FDA continues to be concerned about the proliferation of CBD products that are not regulated or tested and, therefore, have not proven to be safe or effective for therapeutic or medical uses.

The National Institutes of Health, in describing the shortcomings of using cannabis as a medical treatment, states: “Development of drugs from botanicals such as the marijuana plant poses numerous challenges. Botanicals may contain hundreds of unknown, active chemicals, and it can be difficult to develop a product with accurate and consistent doses of these chemicals. Use of marijuana as medicine also poses other problems such as the adverse health effects of smoking and THC-induced cognitive impairment.” Based on these (and other) reputable and reliable sources, I do not share Glassman’s perspective that cannabis is particularly effective as a physical refuah.

It is Glassman’s comment regarding cannabis as a spiritual tool, however, that really concerns and troubles me. Halacha is replete with admonitions regarding intoxication. Kohanim are subject to the death penalty for doing the Avodah in an intoxicated state. We are not permitted to daven in an intoxicated state. I read these (and other) halachot as clearly directing us that our spirituality is not something that is meant to be altered through chemical substances of any kind. What kind of message are we sending to our youth when we talk about spirituality being enhanced by cannabis or, for that matter, alcohol?

There is a huge difference between something being legal and something being glorified. When we exalt and laud substances like marijuana in the way that Glassman does, it sends a certain message to our children. According to numerous studies, marijuana consumption is especially dangerous for youth, and drastically increases the risk for developing an addiction. It also disrupts vital brain connections happening as the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until age 25. As such, it is definitely not OK to glorify the substance in this way and promote its use as something intrinsic to enhancing one’s Judaism.

Now that cannabis is legal for recreational use in both New Jersey and New York, our rabbinic leadership needs to take a strong stand on the Jewish perspective on cannabis use. I urge our rabbinic leadership to act quickly so as to counteract the inappropriate and dangerous assertions from people who promote and glorify marijuana in ways that are not supported by scientific and medical facts.

Etiel Forman
Co-Founder, Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (CCSA)