Cannabis Goes Kashrut: Israel and Orthodox Conversion

Israel is the most advanced medical cannabis market in the world thanks to the ground-breaking research of Israeli scientists. There are over 100,000 patients with valid cannabis licenses. Beyond this, there is evidence that Jews have used cannabis for religious reasons for thousands of years

But so far, modern Orthodox, or even slightly less observant Jews—both in Israel and beyond—have been leery of taking cannabis, even as medicine. And when it comes to these kinds of decisions, it is usually Israel that has the final say.

The reason? Cannabis as medicine had not been certified as kosher—or kashrut—before in Israel (although burgeoning attempts exist in the U.S.). The term “kosher” refers to regulations that prohibit observant Jews from eating certain foods and require that others be prepared in a certain manner—in other words according to Jewish law.

This has now changed. A kashrut certification for Seach Medical Group was issued—and further was discovered as the company listed on the stock exchange. While this has not helped the performance of the company’s stock, it may well herald a new day in Israel and beyond for medical cannabis brands with the right certifications and market reach. Namely, more Jewish people—including those who are Orthodox—may be inclined to use medical cannabis. If a product is kosher, they can consume it even on Shabbat (holy days) and other religious holidays.

Is Cannabis Kosher?

This is a big issue on the cannabis front (and not just in Israel). It is also complicated because of the grey areas created by legalization. For example, some observant Jews would not take any cannabis—particularly if it had any THC in it on Shabbat (the weekly holy day that exists from sundown on Friday until Sunday morning). In life or death situations, Jewish law does not require that medicines are designated as kosher, but it is usually preferred and recommended that any medicine is certified as such.

Now that a cannabis company has been certified as kosher in Israel, the doubt can end. 

Not only will this (of course) increase the use of medical cannabis domestically, it will also begin to open the discussion outside of the country as well. Starting with the U.S.

Type the words “kosher” and “cannabis” into your browser, and you will see that there is already a trend in the U.S. (starting with California). This is also a conversation in New York.

How might this certification be added to create a different but highly accurate test for purity and healthiness? Not to mention create a unique branding and market entry opportunity?

Does Cannabis Need Kashrut Certification?

As a plant, cannabis is not something that would typically require kosher certification. This is a stamp of approval granted by a rabbinic agency, which will check ingredients, the production process, and the production facility. Consider it a kind of Talmudic GMP meets ISO.

It is usually applied to meat and places where food is processed. However, it is also applied to medicine.

The significance in Israel, of course, is that both the medicines and edibles market can now be certified as kosher. This will undoubtedly drive additional sales as large new percentages of the population can partake. According to the most recent reports released by the Israeli government, the majority of the country identifies as religious. Forty-two percent of the population identify as secular.

In the United States, this means that beyond any state (and presumably federal when it comes) certifications for cannabis, any company hoping to reach the Jewish market in states like New York will also do well to consider this kind of certification.

The Global Jewish Cannabis Market

Walk into any mainstream German grocery store these days and you will find a special kosher section. Indeed, Jews all over Germany import New York state manufactured wine for use in their ceremonies.

There is a huge global niche market for kosher products—and with just a few destination points outside of Israel.

This starts with the U.S. (and just behind them, the U.K.).

In the U.S., 2.4% of the population is Jewish, and 21% of New York identifies as such—the largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel. California comes second with about 1.5 million Jews, with Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania rounding out the top five states.

This is a targetable population. And now, thanks to the rabbinical approval in Israel of a cannabis medicine, that conversation can happen globally.

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South Dakota Medical Cannabis Recommendations Jump After Mass Registration Event

The number of patients registered to use medical cannabis in South Dakota has jumped in recent weeks following a mass registration event held in April.

South Dakota voters legalized the medicinal use of cannabis with the approval of a ballot measure in 2020 that passed with nearly 70% of the vote, and late last year the state Department of Health began accepting applications for medical cannabis identification cards for patients who had received a recommendation from their doctor. But after more than five months, the health department had issued fewer than 500 identification cards to eligible patients. Cannabis advocates with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws expected to see thousands of registered patients in that time.

“I think they’re going incredibly slow,” Melissa Mentele, the primary drafter of Initiated Measure 26, the 2020 ballot measure that legalized medical pot in South Dakota, told the Argus Leader.

South Dakota’s medical cannabis law requires patients with qualifying medical conditions to receive a recommendation to use weed medicinally from a physician licensed by the state. Doctors must meet with their patients in person to issue the recommendation, unlike many states that allow telephone or video consultations.

South Dakota Marijuana Spring Fling Certifies New Patients

To help those who can benefit from medical cannabis, a Michigan-based company organized a three-day event in April to connect doctors with potential medical patients. But Molefi Branson, the founder of MyMarijuanaCards.com, had difficulty finding local doctors to certify patients after sending out hundreds of inquiries to physicians across the state. Statewide, only 96 doctors had registered with the health department’s online portal, a required step to certify patients for South Dakota’s medical cannabis program.

“Despite being available since November, only a few South Dakota residents have been able to obtain a state-issued medical cannabis card due to the limited number of doctors authorized to certify patients in the state,” Branson said in a statement from the company.

As a service to patients, Branson’s company recruited doctors based in other states including Illinois and Missouri to obtain a license to practice medicine in South Dakota so they could write recommendations during a mass screening. Dubbed the Marijuana Spring Fling, the three-day event took place in downtown Sioux Falls from April 26 through April 28.

“The demand is so high and we had zero luck with any practitioners in South Dakota wanting to put their neck out for patients,” Branson said. “So we had to get them licensed here.”

Before the medical weed card registration event launched, the health department was issuing an average of two medical cannabis identification cards per day. As of April 26, the agency had approved only 419 cards since it began processing applications on November 8. In the less than three weeks since the Marijuana Spring Fling, the health department has issued an average of 16 medical cards per day, with the total number issued jumping more than half to 652, according to the most recent data available.

Major Healthcare Systems Wary of Medical Pot

Medical cannabis advocates say that the major healthcare systems in South Dakota, Sanford Health and Avera Health, have not supported the state’s medical weed program and have failed to provide information about the number of doctors who have been certified or how many recommendations they have written.

“These major health systems are creating such a barrier,” Mentele said. “Realistically, we should have 10 times that in the state of South Dakota.”

Both health care systems have publicly taken a neutral stance on medical cannabis, saying that they do not support or oppose its use. Issuing medical cannabis recommendations is at the discretion of doctors.

“It is up to each individual Sanford provider to determine the use of medical marijuana in regards to each patient’s individual care plan and what they feel is medically best for their patients,” said Dr. Joshua Crabtree, clinic vice president for Sanford Health’s Sioux Falls region.

The details of South Dakota’s medical cannabis program have also made some physicians wary to provide recommendations to use cannabis medicinally to their patients. Under the law, doctors who certify patients must attest that medical pot will have a therapeutic or palliative effect on the patient.

In March, the state legislature passed and Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill to amend the medical cannabis program. Under the change in law, doctors will only have to certify that the patient has one of the serious medical conditions that qualify a patient to use weed medicinally. Medical cannabis advocates and health care officials expect more patients to be approved for the program after the change in law goes into effect on July 1.

“We continue to evaluate the medical cannabis program in South Dakota and changes to the program, including some of the changes made during this last South Dakota Legislative Session,” Crabtree said.

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European Authorities Bust International Drug Gang That Bought Art to Launder Profits

An international drug network shipping cocaine from Latin America, ketamine from Lithuania into the Netherlands, and cannabis smuggled from North Africa through Spain has just been busted by an operation conducted under the jurisdiction of Europol called Eurojust.

Italy’s interior ministry said that they had issued warrants against 31 people—most of whom were Italian nationals. About $150,000 in cash as well as over 150 kilos of illicit drugs were also seized. The bank accounts of two transport companies were also commandeered as they had allegedly been used to launder money from the operations.

The investigation began with the identification of two restauranteurs in Milan suspected of drug trafficking. Participants in the crime network attempted to hide their identities by using characters from films, literature and well-known artists including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pinocchio, and even the street artist Banksy.

The Future of Coordinated European Drug Busts in The Age of Legalization

Authorities in Europe have not let up on drug investigations or busts, even on the eve of cannabis legalization in several countries. This includes three massive arrests in Spain over the last year. Indeed, Spanish authorities have identified Catalonia, home to Barcelona and the majority of Spain’s cannabis clubs, as the epicenter of Europe’s illegal weed market. Spain is also a major transit point for cocaine shipped in from Latin America and hash from Morocco.

However, the situation allowing such coordination is unlikely to hold without some modification thanks to the movement of cannabis reform across Europe. Indeed, in Spain alone, both mega busts of the last 12 months were of farms spread out over many acres and in situations where the cultivators had previously told police that what they were doing was sanctioned (i.e. growing industrial hemp, which is legal in Spain).

How will international police agencies in Europe be able to investigate sophisticated criminal networks that include cannabis once cannabis starts to become legal across the region?

That question alone is one that the police are also asking, which is why, apart from the driving issue, they have been so anti-reform across Europe.

Cross Border Trade and Changing Regulations

One of the more interesting (or dangerously harrowing) discussions now front and center across Europe is how authorities will be able to tell illegal cannabis from the kind that is bound for legit markets. It is also likely to get very sticky, as the recent bust in Spain proved. Namely, if a company produces a product that is legal in one country and ships it across a border, how safe will it and the receiver be from international attention by Europol?

There are three possible answers to that question.

The first is that legitimate cannabis operations will not be mixed with other drugs—and the chain of title will have been documented clearly.

The second is that legal cannabis distributors and wholesalers in Germany have been receiving shipments of even high THC cannabis flower within Europe for the past several years. That said, most of them, at some point, have also been visited by the local police.

The third is, however, that this entire proposition is about to get more complicated, not less, for both the industry and authorities as of this year. Legalization is setting up a checkerboard of regulations and enforcement problems. Beyond that, a patchwork of regulations complicates this even more. Will it be illegal, in other words, for a producer in Portugal to produce EU GMP cannabis or extract and sell it to an entity in Germany (post legalization) who just intends to sell to the recreational market? How might a newly legit producer in Holland ship to a dispensary in Germany post legalization?

For now, such questions are unanswerable. However, given the unabated zeal of law enforcement in publicizing large busts, and the problems encountered even by legal purveyors so far, expect there to be clashes of the embarrassing and highly litigious kind as legalization in Europe proceeds.

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Woody Harrelson’s New Cannabis Lounge, The Woods, is Open for Business

There was a lucky vibe for Friday the 13th, at the grand opening for cannabis consumption lounge The Woods, co-owned by actor and cannabis entrepreneur Woody Harrelson. Located in West Hollywood, California, the newly remodeled storefront is one of the first of a slew of consumption facilities slated to open in the city over the next two years.

“It’s the most auspicious day, which is why we did it today,” Harrelson told High Times. He explained the years-long process, which has finally led to the sunlit space on Santa Monica Boulevard.

“It was years even before that because my friend and partner Samba (dispensary owner Devon “Samba” Wheeler)—he has now three dispensaries, ERBA Markets—anyway, he was a good friend of mine even before he went off into that stuff, and he was talking to me, ‘You know, you should do it.’

“And I was like ‘I don’t know, what if the feds decide to crack down? What do you do?’ It just depends on how aggro the administration is. So, it just felt a little bit too dicey. Then, he convinced me and we started looking at places—years ago, we started looking. A place on Sunset, here and there, Malibu, everywhere. I came and saw this place with him and I’m like this is the most beautiful place; I went and I hung out in the back area—that’s not actually open yet—it has a koi pond, tropical plants.”

Courtesy of Joanne Cachapero

The new lounge’s showroom is white with exposed brick and beams, lots of wood (of course), and large enough to accommodate a throng of event attendees. The doors were officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the presentation of a Certificate of Welcome from the City of West Hollywood by Mayor Lauren Meister. Several city officials also were there, along with media, and cannabis industry insiders, some of them in Los Angeles to attend this weekend’s Emerald Cup event. Harrelson is slated to judge at the event.

A longtime advocate, Harrelson said he would continue to support legalization of cannabis on a federal level and legal reforms, especially for those currently imprisoned on cannabis charges.

“If advocacy means shooting my mouth off, then I’m going to continue to do that,” Harrelson said.

“It’s absurd,” he continued. “There are these things called consensual crimes, or victimless crimes, and those are the crimes that don’t hurt anybody other than the person perpetrating the crime, right? Like gambling, drugs, prostitution. To me, if you’re not hurting someone else or their property, you should be able to do whatever the hell you want. I’m not condoning gambling or drugs or anything—I’m just saying, in a real, free society that pretty much should be the definition. The government tries to say, ‘We’re going to put you in jail,’ which they have done for so many years, ‘because you like marijuana.’ That’s pretty absurd and I think it’s pretty much of an overreach.”

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High-Class Consumption in the Mile High City

Early on, I realized I was not really a “going out” person. While I appreciate cannabis and psychedelics, as well as a good show or event, the idea of hanging around and being social for the hell of it just because alcohol consumption is involved has never been my cup of tea. 

Like most Americans, I experimented with overconsumption of alcohol young in life, and did not come away from the experience a fan. And while on the very surface level, alcohol can work as a social lubricant, I usually end the night feeling emotionally drained from small talk and with the beginnings of a nasty headache. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I always daydreamed, if social gatherings in the adult world, including networking events, could be hangouts and smoke sessions? Now, in certain parts of the Mile High City, that is not only the case, but an emerging part of Denver cannabis culture. 

consumption
Time machine room at the Marijuana Mansion. Courtesy of Roxanna Carrasco

Marijuana Mansion 

The first time I attended a networking event at the Marijuana Mansion, I was pleasantly surprised with how much genuine fun I had, and how deep the connections and conversations were, despite the fact that we were all there for business. I met contacts and personal friends I still stay in touch with to this day, not something I can say for any night out at the bar. And instead of stumbling away with a headache to get a pricey Uber, I left happy and full thanks to complimentary Chipotle, having forgone alcohol for a joint and some edibles. 

Each room in the Mansion is unique, offering a curated experience as you float through. The bottom floor is mainly an entrance, a main room, dining room, and kitchen, that at most events is a staging area for drinks, smokes, music, and checking in. But the rooms on the second and third floor are each a universe of their own, from a bohemian pad full of throw pillows and giant ashtrays to an old-fashioned, 1820s-esque cigar parlor, to a typical hippie bungalow with beaded doors, beanbags, and day-glo blacklight paint. 

As well as being gorgeous and tons of fun to explore when you’re under the influence, the mansion, located in Capitol Hill just above downtown Denver, also has a deep-rooted weed history. It only gained its nickname in the past decade, but it has been the site of many cannabis milestones over the years, including the creation of Amendment 64, the bill that legalized cannabis for recreational use in Colorado. 

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Hallway at the Marijuana Mansion. Courtesy of Roxanna Carrasco.

“Now, the mansion provides a safe space for like-minded people to gather during private events and share how cannabis has helped them, both personally through the countless medical benefits and professionally through the booming billion-dollar business it’s become in a matter of years,” says April Emma, event director for the Marijuana Mansion. 

“The mansion serves as a great vehicle for spreading the message that social consumption should be allowed,” adds owner Lisa Leder. “It’s crazy to think you can drink alcohol on almost any given block in this nation, but there are very few places where people can consume cannabis in a social setting. We’ve hosted a wide variety of events here: educational events where brands connect with people in the industry to provide in-depth knowledge about their products and gain feedback. We’ve had holiday parties for cannabis companies where their entire staff can come together for an evening and celebrate another successful year of helping people in our community.” 

As a private consumption space, open to the public at other times without consumption on site, the Marijuana Mansion is keeping its secret, speakeasy-esque history of late-night cannabis consumption in dimly lit rooms with strangers alive and well. 

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Tetra Lounge. Courtesy of @twistedfallacy.

Tetra 

At Tetra, the vibe is different. The space is open and vibrant, white and airy, with cozy sofa nooks and a full-scale hangout area on the back porch and in the yard. Touting themselves as “Denver’s premiere cannabis social club” and located in the RiNo (formerly River North) neighborhood just northeast of downtown, the lounge is also Black-owned and located near Five Points, Denver’s historically Black neighborhood. 

Floating through an event at Tetra, networking truly is elevated, as the open floor plan lends itself well to plopping down on a couch next to a group who are rolling up and passing it around. Somehow, the space manages to combine the flowy, airy feel of a modern home or office with the cozy familiarity of an urban smoking space. 

Tetra has been through a lot since the early days, and has just recently been recognized by both the mayor and the governor in an official ceremony as the first open-to-all consumption space within the city limits. The space earned its local license to operate as a cannabis hospitality lounge from Denver License and Excise in March of this year, and they opened to the public in April.

Since 2018, Tetra has operated as a members-only cannabis smoking lounge, but has been striving to be a public consumption space. Tetra applied and received favorable recommendation from the city to be able to change the currently almost nonexistent landscape of public consumption. 

“Cannabis hospitality will likely be the fastest growing sector in the industry over the next couple of years,” owner DeWayne Benjamin tells High Times. “It has the ability to become one of the best business to consumer marketing platforms for brands and companies looking to cultivate a culture within the industry. Hospitality is inclusive in that it encompasses music, art, food, and connection. This kind of cannabis license model can be successful as the industry continues to evolve.”

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Tetra Lounge dab bar. Courtesy of @twistedfallacy.

As the space continues to evolve now that it is open for walk-in consumption, the idea is to bring more specific events to Tetra and expand their offerings. 

“We’ll be expanding what we offer to include educational events, industry mixers that encourage networking, and panel discussions that focus on the changes in the industry,” Benjamin says.

The time to skip the after-work happy hour and light up with your friends and colleagues is nigh. In Denver, both Tetra and Marijuana Mansion offer refuge from the daily drudgery of happy hours and boozy, shallow conversations. 

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