This week’s issue of the Baltimore Jewish Times is really not about any of these things. It is instead about responsibility.
The day that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana took effect, National Public Radio ran a report that featured an interview of one of the many citizens and tourists flocking to the regulated dispensaries to buy a joint. Not a resident of the Centennial State, one particular guy spoke with such slurred speech that it gave listeners the impression that he was already high. Unable to smoke up in public — Colorado’s new law does not allow that — his plan was to get invited into somebody’s home to “chill out.”
Legislators and advocates are quick to point out that Maryland is not like Colorado and that the discussions currently under way in Annapolis — unrolling a limited research-based medicinal marijuana program — would preclude our state from becoming a toker’s paradise. And the closest dispensary, a rabbi-owned store over the state line in the District of Columbia, hardly fits the mold of a drug den. But still, the image of an army of stoners mooching off the good graces of others in society prevails. The lure of cannabis has become such a part of our collective consciousness that some have even taken to calling the upcoming pen-ultimate showdown between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks “the Pot Bowl.”
Make no mistake; the legalization of marijuana presents some very real risks. Chief among them is the idea of society giving license to the worst elements of stoner culture. Will we become a nation of teenagers and early 20-somethings taking bong hits and binging on potato chips to get us through the day? Put another way, are we endorsing a culture of laziness and irresponsibility?
In Maryland at least, probably not. What is instead unfolding is an illustration of policymakers, academics and physicians heeding the primary call of government to protect its citizens. If certain cannabinoids alleviate pain and chronic symptoms better than other pharmaceuticals on the market, it behooves us to explore the specific ways in which society can use them to ease the suffering of its members. The same can be said for stem cell research, improving the financial lot of Holocaust survivors, making a mid-career switch into medicine or employing green technologies in synagogues and day schools — all of these examples from this week’s JT look at different ways that individuals and organizations are fulfilling the social compact.
Kabbalistic teachings call taking the mundane and using it for good as a form of birur, of sifting, like in separating the chaff from the wheat. From that vantage point, it’s not surprising that at least one rabbi has apparently found references to cannabis in Jewish writings. The fact that hemp exists means that it serves some purpose in the overall scheme of Creation. It makes great rope, but it also seems to have therapeutic value. On a certain level, we owe it to the less fortunate among us to at least try to extract some good out of it. As for the recreational users of the drug, let’s teach them responsibility by emulating its precepts.