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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776
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Legalizing Pot

I strongly believe in legalizing drugs, soft and hard, but I am wary of drugs of any kind.

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Religion has used drugs of various sorts throughout its history. Some people even think the incense used in the Tabernacle, the Knei Bosem (Exodus 30) was, if not marijuana, some other hallucinogen. I chuckle at the thought of all those Israelites crowded into the Temple getting a high. Perhaps that explains why we lost two Temples. John Allegro even argued that the Dead Sea sects were permanently high on mushroom-based drugs.

When I was a headmaster I asked the great and much missed Lubavitcher Rebbe to send me teachers who would inspire my charges with a love for Judaism. Two lovely fellows arrived and did a great job inviting pupils to their homes, and I was delighted until I discovered they were plying thirteen-year-olds with vodka. Any religion that requires artificial stimuli, as far as I am concerned, is dishonest, crazy, or dangerous. Perhaps all those people who have visions of the Virgin Mary have been taking something.

I am in favor of helping those who suffer pain, but still I am wary of drugs of any kind. I believe a person healthy in body and mind should avoid them. Not all users are addled addicts and just as some people like alcohol in moderation perhaps pot works for others too despite the dire warnings of brain damage. I have on occasion taken a sleeping pill. In other words, as adults we have a responsibility to be sensible in our tastes and indulgences and there are limits to government interference.

I see the useless drug wars that narcotic agents wage all over the world. They haven’t succeeded so far so why not legalize and tax? Bureaucracies and government agencies seem to have a record of incompetence, political interference, and vested interests. Just look at the US tax system or the Affordable Care Act. Do you really need any more proof? Let the sick, the poor and the weak have their little pleasures. The role of government is to ensure they do not harm others.

We have a tradition of allowing our children to drink wine for kiddush. Usually our children do not grow into alcoholics. Control, education, and moderation are the best means of bringing people up to know where the limits are, not legislation.

Jeremy Rosen

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


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