Kosher kush: The Orthodox-approved pot brownie

California couple offers medical cannabis edibles, but Orthodox Union makes it clear that it draws the line at recreational use.

A selection of kosher medical cannabis edibles by Shifra and Alex Klein (photo credit: Courtesy)
A selection of kosher medical cannabis edibles by Shifra and Alex Klein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It has been nearly two years since Shifra and Alex Klein began exploring medical cannabis to treat two of their children.
When they realized how much the drug had changed their lives for the better, they felt the need to share their knowledge and expertise with the wider community. So a few months ago they opened Mitzva Herbal in Los Angeles, which offers marijuana edibles, including brownies, cookies and candies, to those with a valid prescription. All of their products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, making them only the second-ever medical marijuana producers in the OU’s ranks.
But unlike the first company, Vireo Health NY, which sells pills, vapors and oils, Mitzva Herbal offers appealing, low-dosage treats. It is also based in California, where, on January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana will become legal in the state.
But both the Kleins and the OU say their focus is entirely on medical usage of the plant.
“When we started doing research and saw how much it is helping [our kids] and others, we really wanted to explore that for other people that were not well in our community,” Shifra told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.
After seeing what she called a “huge improvement” with her two children – a son with autism and a daughter with severe ADHD – she and her husband explored moving things to a bigger scale.
“We’re not shy with our kids and we’re not ashamed of what we do,” she said. “We’re really proud to be able to give this service to the rest of the community. Hashem made this plant for us, and if we use it properly, we can take care of ourselves with it.”
So in March of this year, they opened their collective, “which is different than a dispensary,” said Shifra. “We can kind of pick and choose who can be allowed in the collective.”
This, she said, allows them to be sure that they only serve those who need the product for true medicinal needs.
“We’re really focusing on the medical side of it and we’re not looking to get the community high,” she said.
“If we see someone who just wants to make trouble, we’re not into that. We just really want to be here as a service to the community.”
And it is those intentions – in addition to the standard kosher inspections – that garnered them a stamp of approval from the OU.
“We have made it clear to all of our associates who are involved, all of our clients that are involved in cannabis, that [whatever] the laws in various states... our position hasn’t changed,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the OU’s kosher division, in an interview on Tuesday.
That position was one the organization established when it bestowed certification on its first company, Vireo Health NY, in January 2016 – that it would certify medicinal cannabis products, but never recreational. That decision, said Elefant last year, came after months of deliberation and discussion within the OU if to certify anything at all.
“Any company that’s involved in recreational marijuana is going to be a company that we’re going to avoid working with,” he said in October. Even when state laws allow recreational use, he said, the organization’s position will not change, in the same way that cigarettes are legal, but would never have the OU stamp of approval.
Elefant said this week that numerous companies operating legal recreational cannabis businesses have approached the OU and have all been turned down.
In just the past few years, the legality of cannabis in the United States has undergone a sea change. While it remains completely illegal in some states, the majority have allowed it for medicinal use, while eight have legalized it entirely. It remains a federal crime, however, which leaves all of its usage in a somewhat gray area.
In Israel, medical marijuana is legal, and recreational use was decriminalized – but not legalized – in March. The Chief Rabbinate has never weighed in on the issue.
There is no rabbinic question that cannabis, in its pure leafy form, is kosher. Just like any plant, if its leaves are clean from bugs, consumption is allowed without any certification.
And smoking marijuana, as opposed to ingesting it, needs no halachic oversight.
The questions arise when the plant is instead ingested, whether in the form of pills or oils (which are in a rabbinic gray zone) or baked goods and candies (which many, though not all, would say need certification).
Many patients, especially children, simply can’t or don’t like inhaling smoke, and observant Jews don’t smoke on Shabbat. And while many companies offer “kosher-friendly” edible cannabis products, there are very few with official certification.
Elefant said the OU has a number of other companies who have applied for certification and are currently undergoing the process, but have yet to complete it.
Shifra knew from the beginning that she wanted to seek out the OU to provide Mitzva Herbal’s certification.
“We know that the OU is the most recognized kashrus agency... and we wanted to make sure that our product was something that everyone felt comfortable with,” she said.
Even with the backing of the prominent rabbinical organization, she said they have faced some backlash within the community.
“It’s people that are not educated on the subject, which is typical... especially in the Orthodox community,” she said. “There are snide comments in shul or laughing about it – like these ‘high jokes.’ But we take it with a grain of salt.”
Elefant said the OU gets its share of comments as well – some positive, but others questioning the decision.
“There were people anxious to understand why we did it, there were people anxious to tell us we did the right thing and there were people that they didn’t agree with what we did,” he said.
But as far as the organization is concerned, their position hasn’t changed in close to two years: Medicinal cannabis is okay, recreational is not.
And when January 1 rolls around, what does Mitzva Herbal plan to do? First, they’ll be getting all their paperwork and licensing in order for when things do change. Right now, Shifra said, they’re operating “kind of in a gray area,” as the laws are still being written.
“Since we’re a medical-based company, right now you’ll still need to have your prescription,” she said. “We’re not creating any products that are for recreational use right now.”
Pressed about 2018 and onward, she said, “I don’t know where it’s going to go from there.”
The Orthodox Union, of course, will keep watching, as it does with any company it certifies.
“We’re not going to go to everybody’s home to see whoever bought an OU cannabis product,” said Elefant. “If one of our clients who are manufacturing cannabis products under OU certification were to change the direction of their business to include recreational cannabis, we would probably withdraw supervision.”
And come January 1, “we certainly will be checking up, but I have to tell you, we won’t need to check up,” Elefant said. “We live in a world where everybody is doing the job of checking up for us... You can be sure if there’s going to be any deviation in the production or in the intent of any product, especially something like cannabis, we won’t even need to wait.”