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Home » Balak, Events in the News, Free Choice, Questions of Ethics

Balak: Weed is Now Legal

Submitted by on June 24, 2018 – 12:52 amNo Comment | 3,176 views

Canada has recently legalised weed, so we must ask, what is the Jewish perspective on weed?

Marijuana, or weed as it is known in the vernacular, is a derivative of the cannabis plant. On the surface, plants are kosher. The only thing to avoid when eating plants, are bugs, and by the time the plant is dried and processed, bugs are not a problem. So, cannabis is kosher from a dietary perspective so long as the processor did not add unkosher additives to the product.

But a Jew needs to ask more than whether it complies with the Torah’s dietary laws. A Jew also needs to ask if it complies with all the Torah’s laws. Weed might not contain traces of gelatin, but it isn’t necessarily kosher. The Torah tells us to guard our health exceedingly. Anything noxious or harmful should be avoided. On this basis, leading contemporary rabbis forbid the use of tobacco, which is linked to many ill effects.[1] Does weed fall into the same category?

The Verdict is Out

The verdict is still out. Many studies were performed on the effects of weed and although weed is found to be interrelated with a variety of health concerns, none of the studies have proved causation.

Some users report a dulling of the senses after smoking weed, yet others report a sharpening of the senses and of the creative process. Some experience nausea because of weed, yet weed is also used medicinally to relieve nausea symptoms. Some experience short term memory loss and concentration impairment, others don’t. A very small percentage of users are prone to addiction (the numbers are higher for teenagers). Many studies found that weed impacts the neurochemical system causing anxiety, fear, and hallucination. There is also consensus that weed impedes the brain’s reflexes and impairs judgement as it induces a euphoric calm.

It is clear that the verdict is out on whether and precisely how weed affects our health, and on how long lasting the effects might be. Before the harmful effects of tobacco were widely known, rabbinic leaders, who discouraged its use, stopped short of banning it outright. Yet, when the harmful effects became widely known, they retracted their earlier rulings and banned it outright.[2] The same could and should apply to weed today. We don’t have enough information to ban weed outright, but we have enough information to discourage its use because it is not consistent with the Torah’s dictum to guard our health exceedingly.[3]

When Balaam asked G-d for permission to travel with the Moabite ministers to curse the Jews, G-d discouraged it. Yet, when Balaam insisted, G-d permitted the journey. However, G-d warned him that he would only be able to say the words that G-d would want him to say. Balaam went, and instead of cursing the Jews, as was his want, G-d forced him to bless the Jews.

The moral of this story for us, people who don’t yearn to curse others, is that not everything that is permitted, is necessary. In days of old, Chassidim used to say, “what we must, we must. But what we may, isn’t necessary.” Just because cannabis is legal in Canada, doesn’t mean we need to use it.

Should it be Legal?

I believe that weed should be legal. In religious countries, the role of government is to enforce moral standards, but in secular democracies governments don’t dictate morality to it’s citizens. If smoking weed endangered others, governments would be right to outlaw it. But if it is only harmful to the smoker, it is not the role of government to legislate morality for its citizens.

Alcohol is more harmful than weed in many ways – it is more addictive and it stimulates aggression rather than induces calm as weed does, and yet it is legal. Tobacco and nicotine are noxious, yet they are legal too. Gambling is highly addictive and destroys families and careers, yet the government runs the greatest gambling event of all, the state lotto.

Weed is no different from other harmful vices that are legal in democratic countries. But, just because they are legal, doesn’t mean we should indulge in them. It just means that the government is stepping away from telling us how to live our lives.

An Opportunity

And this, I believe, is the opportunity inherent in Canada’s legalizing of weed. The model of organized religion is top down. The religious canon formulates the rules and the religion’s leaders enforce the rules utilizing techniques such as motivation, inspiration, and sometimes even coercion.

This model assumes that the lay people are inclined to indulge in their vices and require external motivation to restrict them; to help them see the higher truth. Although this has been true throughout history, we are taught that when Mashiach comes, there won’t be a need for enforcement of G-d’s rules. We will be self-motivated to observe them. We won’t just consent to obey them, we will see their beauty and wisdom and will want to observe them.

No one will need to remind us or teach us; we will conform to them by choice. Our minds will be synchronized to G-d’s ideas and we will be naturally drawn to His choices. This Mashiach model is the polar opposite of the historical religious model. It is not top down, it is from the bottom up. We will choose, freely and without coercion, to live by G-d’s rules.

Before Mashiach’s arrival, it is important that we train for this profound transition. It seems to me that the permissive freedoms prevalent in modern democracies, allow its citizens to practice choosing the right path of their own volition rather than being coerced into it.

There was a time that Jews who did not observe Shabbat were ostracized from the community. In those days, those who observed Shabbat, couldn’t know whether they would have chosen to observe it had they been given a choice. In today’s age, when no one is ostracized for not observing Shabbat, we all have the opportunity to choose to observe Shabbat. When we observe it of our own volition, we make the decision to choose freely to embrace G-d’s way of life.

By legalizing weed, Canada opened yet one more arena to free choice by giving us the opportunity to choose the right thing of our own volition. By legalizing weed, Canada has introduced a new layer to the bottom up model of religion that is the precursor to the Mashiach. Let us train for Mashiach by choosing to practice restraint and may G-d bring Mashiach speedily in our days, Amen.

[1] Shevet Halevi. 10:295. Ziz Eliezer, 15:39. Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat, 2:18. See also the Chafetz Chaim, Likutei Amarim:13, who outlawed tobacco because it weakens one’s strength.

[2] Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Yechaveh Da’as, 5:39 vs. Halichos Olam: 1, Vayikra, 4:265. Rabbi S.Z. Oerbach also changed his ruling.

[3]Unless prescribed by a physician for medicinal purpose. See https://www.chabad.org/3189821

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