New York Growing Partners, a company that is vying for one of five licenses to manufacture and distribute medical marijuana in New York State, is appealing to government officials with the pitch that it will be producing a kosher product, according to documents obtained by the Jewish Week through a Freedom of Information request.
A June 4th letter written on behalf of the company — two of whose principals are chasidic Jews in the nursing home business — from the mayor of Schenectady to the state health department notes that “New York has the largest Jewish population of any state in the U.S., and a large percentage of that population observes kosher customs. By aligning its manufacturing/production processes with Kashrut,” the letter continues, the company is "ensuring that all New Yorkers who could benefit from pain-management qualities of medical marijuana have access without having to go against the tenets of their religion.” (According to the letter, New York Growing Partners is seeking to open a dispensary in the town of Glenville, New York.)
Documents show that other such letters of support for New York Growing Partners’ license application were solicited by the company’s public relations firm, Zimmerman/Edelson, from the County Executive of Ulster County, where the company is hoping to locate its production facility, as well as the Saugerties town supervisor (the proposed facility is located in the town of Saugerties).
Notably, these letters of support do not name the principals in the company—Leo Friedman, Michael Melnicke, Alex Solovey and Pat DeBenedictis—nor do they get into any specifics about their plans or expertise. Instead the letters highlight New York Growing Partners' intention to produce marijuana for Jews who observe kosher dietary laws—even though it is unclear that kosher certification would be necessary for these medical marijuana products (and, if it were, such certification would be available to any company, Jewish or not).
While neither plants nor cigarettes need kosher certification, under New York's medical marijuana law smoking will not be permitted as a form of delivery; instead, the drug will be allowed only in non-smokable form, including pills, oils and vapors (the law prohibits putting pot into “edible food products” without special permission from the health commissioner).
According to Rabbi J. David Bleich, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the head of its postgraduate institute for the study of Talmudic jurisprudence and family law and an authority on medical ethics, medication in pill form does not require kosher supervision (liquids and capsules can present issues requiring supervision, however). There is likely no need for certification for marijuana delivered in vapor form, unless it has been adulterated, and the same applies to oil, he said.
“Once it [marijuana] is in a cookie,” Rabbi Bleich noted, “it is no different from any other cookie and a cookie needs certification.”
Rabbi Bleich told the Jewish Week that he believed it would be advisable for any company applying for a medical marijuana license to seek kosher certification, as any “medicine ought to be presented in kosher form, if possible, and I don’t know why [medical marijuana] can’t be since [the basic ingredient] is 'glatt kosher.’”
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the head of the OU’s kashrus division, told the Jewish Week that he has spoken with a number of companies that indicated that they would be applying for a license about the possibility of obtaining kosher certification for their medical marijuana products.
“We don’t have a lot of details regarding any particular process because it hasn’t come yet to fruition,” Rabbi Elefant explained, noting that in order to certify a product the facility where it is made would need to be inspected and, as of yet, no such facilities exist. However, he added that medical marijuana in a pill or vapor form would be easy to certify. Rabbi Elefant added that it was his “hunch” that given the large Orthodox Jewish population in the state, all of the five companies that are ultimately chosen to receive licenses will likely decide to obtain kosher certification.