Jewish Journal


November 1, 2010

A religious view on legalizing recreational pot use



The election is tomorrow, and procrastination translates into me having to hand-deliver my absentee ballot. (Kind of defeats the purpose, no?) Anyway, there is a lot going on in these midterm elections. The battles for one of California’s U.S. Senate seats and the Governor’s Mansion, both of which are headed the Democrats way. Redistricting. And, my favorite, Prop 19.

That last one would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Now, in all honesty, I have never smoked pot. But I also don’t see any problems with the drug that exceed those associated with alcohol and certainly fewer than cigarettes.

The biggest problem with marijuana is the black market that exists for it, which puts money in the pockets of dealers pushing real drugs. Plus, we already have Prop 215, and anyone who wants to get legal marijuana—at least according to the state of California—can do so by telling a doctor they have debilitating anxiety. Or you can always try to start a cannabis-centric church.

My opinion, as shared by a retired judge I occasionally play basketball with: Let’s legalize it, regulate it and tax it.

From a Christian perspective, I see that the Bible calls us to be of sober mind. So like drinking and smoking, I suspect this can be maintained when marijuana is smoked only in moderation.

What do Jews think about legalizing cannabis? A lot. And The Jewish Journal has a special online section on Jews and pot. Here’s a bit from the lead piece about how Jews feel about Prop 19:

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

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