I recently read that a number of U.S. kosher certifying agencies are mulling putting their seal of approval on legal medical marijuana. Rabbi, marijuana is a plant. Since when does a plant need to be certified kosher?


Since you only asked whether it is kosher—and not whether marijuana should be legal—I will focus solely on that issue. And the answer really depends on how you define the word “kosher.”

Narrow Definition

Most narrowly defined, kosher means that it contains no ingredients that were from non-kosher animals, milk and meat, or other substances proscribed by Jewish law.

Accordingly, if we would know that the product in question contains just leaves and that there was no unkosher residue on the processing equipment, it would not need certification, like plain unflavored tea.

On the other hand, if it would be processed and contain other additives, as appears to be the case, kosher certification would be necessary.

Regarding medically necessitated pills, many rule that they do not generally need to be kosher. “Pill medications that one swallows are permitted even if they contain non-kosher ingredients,” according to the cRc (Chicago Rabbinical Council). “Two exceptions to that rule are: (1) vitamins, which generally require certification; and (2) gel caps, hard or soft, which should only be taken by someone who is ill and does not have a kosher alternative.”

Thus, even if the marijuana itself would be kosher, there would be concern that the capsules that contain it be kosher as well.

Also, if the marijuana is not deemed medically necessary by halachah (Jewish law)—as may often be the case with medical marijuana—then like vitamins, you’d need to be sure that it is kosher before partaking.

Now, the above issue applies only if the substance would be ingested. If smoked or injected, most kosher concerns would not apply.

(Also note that on Passover, when Jews are forbidden to even own edible substances that are not kosher for Passover, there may be concern even for the smoked variety, if they contain more than pure leaves.)

Wider Definition

In a broader sense, “kosher” denotes something that is appropriate for the Jewish person. Until recently, marijuana was an illegal substance just about everywhere, and the use was unsupervised by doctors. There are halachic rulings on the subject, such as the following 1973 letter from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of righteous memory, regarding yeshivah students in Israel who wished to use hashish. In that brief responsum (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 3:35), he ruled that drug use is forbidden for the following reasons:

a. A Jew is obligated to maintain his good health—both physical and mental. Many drugs have very serious physiological, emotional and mental effects.

b. He drew a parallel between this and the “rebellious son” of Deuteronomy 21:18. From there he infers that the Torah strongly objects to overindulgence and causing oneself to evoke new outlets for indulgence that were not previously present.

c. Like the case of the “rebellious son,” taking illegal drugs is often the first step in a very precipitous decline. Drug dependents often turn to stealing and other nefarious means of feeding their habit.

d. Many young people who take drugs are going against their parents’ wishes. Honoring and obeying our parents is biblically mandated.

e. The Torah (Leviticus 19:2) requires us to sanctify ourselves. Nachmanides (ad loc.) explains this to mean that a person should not indulge excessively in bodily pleasures.

Because of all these reasons and others, he ruled that using narcotics is forbidden.

Obviously, none of these reasons would apply in a case where a patient takes these substances following the ruling of their doctor in a controlled and legal environment.

On the other end of the spectrum, they would most certainly apply to youths using illegal drugs.

For those in the middle, it would be advisable that the individual present his or her case to a competent rabbi before proceeding.

Broadest Definition

Even if we would conclude that narcotics are not forbidden, the question remains whether or not they are compatible with Jewish values and spirituality. In response to a 1977 query, the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—wrote that his opposition to marijuana use was “more and more so. The very question is startling.”

Why was this? Perhaps the key is found in the following 1965 letter to a student in Cambridge, Mass., regarding LSD:

. . . Biochemistry is not my field, and I cannot express an opinion on the drug you mention, especially as it is still new. However, what I can say is that the claim that the said drug can stimulate mystical insight, etc., is not the proper way to attain mystical inspiration, even if it had such a property.

The Jewish way is to go from strength to strength, not by means of drugs and other artificial stimulants, which have a place only if they are necessary for the physical health, in accordance with the mitzvah to take care of one’s health. I hope that everyone will agree that before any drugs are taken one should first utilize all one’s natural capacities, and when this is done truly and fully, I do not think there will be a need to look for artificial stimulants . . .