Cannabis, kaneh bosem has always played a role in Jewish medicinal and spiritual practice, which can help explain the prominent role that Israel has played in the modern history of cannabis research. Yet with a changing narrative around cannabis now centering the plant’s health benefits, a striking disconnect is becoming apparent between Jewish cannabis users and the communal organizations representing their interests. As increasing numbers of people turn to medical cannabis to treat everything from PTSD to insomnia, Jewish organizations are missing out on an opportunity to educate their community on their own history and represent cannabis advocacy as a Jewish issue that supports Jewish life, culture and Eretz Israel.
The past shows us that a strong, supportive, communal body is necessary to preserve Jewish identity and culture in the wake of rising tides of antisemitism. If Jewish organizations don’t include cannabis education as part of their official mandate, then we risk ceding the narrative about Jews and cannabis to other groups in the public forum, including Neo-Nazis who for decades have been circulating their own explanation for our prominent role in cannabis science that involves our “plan for world domination.”
The Jewish priority of supporting life over politics is why so many Jews find their way into cannabis advocacy and reject anti-cannabis ideology—a position made possible by Christian suspicion of both nature and pleasure. The resistance to embracing cannabis advocacy as a Jewish issue is more surprising given how anti-cannabis ideology promotes negative judgments about Jews and Israel. For if cannabis does not have medical benefits, if it is simply “bad” and should be banned, then how does one read the very Jewish history of cannabis research or, indeed, view Israel’s health care system?
The connection between anti-cannabis ideology and anti-Jewish bias became evident when I made my post-pandemic existential shift from academia to growing cannabis, and enrolled in a post-secondary course on Cannabis Cultivation in Nova Scotia as the only Jew in a class of young men (as well the first Jew they had ever met). Despite my intent to shift from Jewish education to working for a Licensed Producer, it was just too uncomfortable to let them all draw their own conclusions about why every leading scholar, scientist and advocate we studied was Jewish, and I found myself interrupting all the time to explain a few things about Jews.
To my surprise, they loved these mini-lectures about cannabis and Jewish culture, and my professor Dr. Av Singh viewed them as essential to provide context for the Jewish contribution to cannabis culture. So I summarized a few points from these canna-Jewish lectures for an article I published in High! Canada Magazine, “Why Jews Love Weed,” which led many Gentiles to tell me it was the first time they had understood anything about us at all (i.e., why we’re not Christian).
After I sent a copy of the article to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (z’’l), he sent a note of appreciation a few weeks before he died (to this Jewish woman he had never met), and reminded me that “In many fields of science Jews are very much involved. Indeed the number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews is by far higher than by any other group.”
His text inspired me to create Cannabis Jew Magazine to honour Dr. Mechoulam’s monumental contributions and create a platform where Jews can convey our relation to cannabis—with our language and humour— from religious and secular perspectives, in relation to the past and present. For the sake of Jewish pride, we need to represent and celebrate the Jewish history of cannabis research so that the anti-cannabis lobby (including Neo-Nazis) don’t turn it into a source of shame and cause to believe there is something wrong with us, or we need Jesus (or both). For this reason, I believe Cannabis Jew Magazine is also a mitzvah, so I’ve been confused at the lack of support from Jewish organizations telling me that cannabis advocacy is not “part of their mandate,” despite its importance for combatting implicit bias and supporting Israel’s economy.
Many “cannabis Jews” have been able to reconnect with our heritage and feel a newfound connection to Israel because cannabis has meant so much to us in our efforts to recover from the past and feel a bit more optimistic about the future, while navigating a lot of generational trauma and antisemitism that can make it hard to feel Jewish pride and a sense of belonging to the tribe. This is why I’m having a hard time understanding why Jewish organizations want to keep their distance from cannabis advocacy, when the cause is bringing together Jews across communities to express solidarity with Israel and an enormous amount of pride in being-Jewish.
My hope is that Jewish professionals in these organizations actually read the inaugural issue of Cannabis Jew Magazine — with contributions from Israelis, Canadian and American Jews—to see that we are a large community and seek allyship in the effort to combat antisemitism and instill a sense of commitment to Israel and Jewish community. With the same support and encouragement offered to other Jewish projects and causes that serve to counter bias and promote Ahavat Israel, we look forward to a future where Jewish and non-Jewish stoners can sit back over some kosher kush, and reflect on Judaism’s long, proud history with cannabis.