Back in November, an overwhelming majority of New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis — the plant formerly known as marijuana.
Governor Phil Murphy strongly endorsed the amendment; legalization was a key campaign promise he made when he ran for office in 2019. Nonetheless, the legal status of cannabis has yet to change in the Garden State. The governor has yet to sign the bills passed by the legislature that would implement the amendment and establish legal marijuana dispensaries for non-medical users. At issue, reportedly, are concerns over how to deal with minors caught with the drug, which would be legal for adults.
Nonetheless, cannabis clearly has entered the public arena. But if the lawmakers are unsure what to do make about this probably-soon-to-be-legal intoxicant, what about your friendly neighborhood doctor?
So Israel Bonds New Jersey Health Professionals Division is stepping into the breach with a Zoom symposium next week it’s calling “Cannabis: The Ethical, Jewish, Medical and Legal Implications.” (See box.)
While the focus of New Jersey’s legal efforts now is on recreational use of cannabis — the state permitted its use to treat certain medical conditions in 2010 — the symposium is looking primarily at the medical issues.
The opening presentation will be by Dr. David G. Conyack, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist in Livingston.
Panelists include Dr. Boaz Hirshberg, the chief medical officer of Breath of Life Pharma, one of Israel’s leading medical cannabis companies; Susanna P. Short, co-founder of the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association; and Rabbi Michael Broyde, professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta and co-author, along with Emory colleague Shlomo Pill, of “Setting the Table: An Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Rabbi Yechiel Mikhel Epstein’s Arukh HaShulhan,” which was published last month.
The panel will be moderated by Rabbi Shalom Lubin, who is the executive director of Chabad of South East Morris County in Madison as well as the rabbi of Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah in Parsippany. Rabbi Lubin also is the founder of the Jewish Ethics Academy, which specializes in offering lawyers, doctors, and other professionals Jewish educational programs that count as continuing professional education. In this case, Rabbi Lubin has arranged for the program, whose contours were decided by Israel Bonds, to receive continuing education credits from Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
“My objective is not to teach lawyers how to practice law, or doctors how to practice medicine,” Rabbi Lubin said. “But when it comes to ethics, when it comes to morals, the gray areas of life, that’s where having a 2,000 year old voice of morals, ethics, of values in the conversation is very worthwhile and helpful.”
Rabbi Lubin said he recommend Rabbi Broyde for the panel as “someone who can concisely sum up Jewish topics.”
Rabbi Broyde said that he’s going to discuss cannabis in terms of pain relief.
“Both emotional and physical pain amelioration is an important value in the Jewish tradition,” Rabbi Broyde said. “That marijuana serves a positive function in ameliorating some physical symptoms and some emotional symptoms makes it on the whole something that should be part of pharmaceutical life in America.”
Rabbi Broyde disagrees with New Jersey’s governor on the question of full legalization of marijuana. “It shouldn’t be available over the counter, just like pharmaceuticals aren’t available over the counter,” he said. “I think marijuana should be treated closer to a prescription drug, and not like Tylenol and not like vodka. The exact level of regulation is always hard to know. I think alcohol is under-regulated. Marijuana shouldn’t be under-regulated like alcohol.”
Rabbi Broyde said that there are few halachic rulings on medical marijuana. “When you read Reb Moshe Feinstein,” the premiere 20th century American halachic authority who wrote a letter in 1973 banning marijuana smoking, “he is talking about the use of marijuana in its 1960s form of ‘Let’s get high.’ I have no doubt that if I had gone to Reb Moshe and said I’m on chemotherapy and am having a hard time keeping food down, he would say it’s a great idea. Medical marijuana isn’t what Reb Moshe was talking about.”
Rabbi Broyde said that his work as the chair of a medical ethics committee for a hospital and a hospice taught him the limitations of using addictive opiates for pain relief. Marijuana is not an opiate and there has been some research indicating that increased legal access to marijuana correlates with a decrease in opiate overdoses.
How do you balance the desire of patients for pain relief with the likelihood that their pain medication would be diverted to healthy people who would abuse it?
“We dealt regularly with the problems of how to deal with dying patients and their desire to have their pain medicated,” he said. “Dying patients needs to have their pain medicated, and we need to develop a better process.”
He said that local officials where he lives have come to understand that cannabis can be medically useful.
“Even in the state of Georgia, which is pretty strict and has no lawful medicinal marijuana, there was a no prosecution order if you were on chemotherapy. You have to be cruel to go after people who are on chemotherapy.”
What: Cannabis: The Ethical, Jewish, Medical and Legal Implications, presented by Israel Bonds and the Jewish Ethics Academy
When: Thursday, February 11, 7-8:30 p.m.
How much: A new 2021 minimum $100 Israel bond investment
How many Continuing Medical Education credits: 1.5
How to register: Go toconta.cc/3cyvsSU