Pubdate: Fri, 25 May 2007
Source: Jewish Journal, The (CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Jewish Journal
Author: Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Cited: The Institute of Medicine report
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Alex Grabiner was not a particularly religious Jew, but when he and a few
friends opened a medical marijuana pharmacy last year in the San Fernando
Valley, they invited an Orthodox rabbi to install three mezuzot in hopes
that God would bless their business.

"We wanted to create a place where there was a drastically different energy
inside than there was outside," said Grabiner, a 22-year-old Boston transplant.

"That is what the mezuzah symbolizes: That this is a house of people who

But last month, the Karma Collective, as the pharmacy near Van Nuys Airport
is known, was burglarized. The thieves didn't take much -- a few hundred
dollars, no drugs -- but they cut through a steel security gate and knocked
down the front door and another door that opened from the lobby to the
cannabis shop.

The mezuzot were still hanging when the police arrived, Grabiner said.
After the police were done, a mezuzah was on the ground, its sacred
parchment removed from its plastic shell and from the safety wrapper.

Between those points in time, a burglary investigation turned into a
narcotics raid, and Karma's Diana Hahn was placed in the back of a
black-and-white over allegedly possessing illegal drugs. (The 23-year-old
is now out on $100,000 bond; the district attorney was given an extension
Tuesday to file charges by June 5.)

It's unclear what happened to the mezuzah. Grabiner and his colleagues --
they're hush-hush about titles and ownership of the pot pharmacy, which
continues to operate -- claim Los Angeles police intentionally defiled the
mezuzah. However, Capt. Jim Miller of LAPD's Van Nuys Division said, "To
the best of my knowledge, whatever happened to that happened before our

"We don't just wantonly go through places and destroy property, and there
is no reason we would have for destroying religious items," said Miller,
who joined his officers at the Karma Collective investigation April 26. "If
we had information that we believed narcotics was stored within an object
and it was necessary for us to damage that object to recover the product,
that would be fully documented -- and that didn't happen."

Whatever the case, Karma's tale underscores the broader reality that 11
years after California voters passed Proposition 215, implementation of the
Compassionate Use Act, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes,
remains mired in confusion.

Most cities and counties have done nothing to regulate cannabis clubs,
which in Los Angeles have multiplied more than fourfold in the past year.
While police are not proactively investigating the pharmacies, Miller said,
they wouldn't overlook illegal activity of which they are made aware. In
the case of Karma, he said, that was the sale of marijuana baked into
edible cookies and chocolates, which Miller said are not protected by state
law. The pharmacy contends that baked goods are protected by state law and
continues to sell them, as do most clubs.

Additionally, the federal government does not recognize Proposition 215 or
subsequent state legislation protecting medical marijuana and in January
federal agents raided 11 L.A. cannabis clubs. Because of marijuana's
purported lack of medicinal value -- last year, the Food and Drug
Administration stated "no scientific studies supported medical use of
marijuana," the Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a
Schedule I narcotic, as dangerous as heroin. Cocaine is a Schedule II.

But a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National
Academy of Sciences, found marijuana helpful in easing symptoms for certain
cancer and AIDS patients, particularly those having problems eating.

Other studies have found cannabis eases chronic pain, relaxes muscle
spasms, calms chemotherapy-induced nausea and promotes hunger in AIDS
patients who are physically wasting away.

"Whether it is addictive, whether it has a negative effect on the mind --
all those things are irrelevant if you are talking about someone who is
dying. What you are trying to do is alleviate pain," said Rabbi Elliot
Dorff, rector of American Jewish University (formerly the University of
Judaism) and co-chairman of its bioethics department. "So the question
about medical marijuana from a Jewish perspective is a slam dunk."

That might explain why Jews have been at the forefront of advocating the
overhaul of marijuana laws. Many of Los Angeles' so-called "pot docs" are
Jewish; so, too, is the local head of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws. And one of the most prominent proponents of
medical marijuana has been the Bay Area's self-styled "ganja guru," Ed

A secular Jew who has spent the past four years fighting federal felony
charges for running an Oakland pot club, Rosenthal's been convicted, seen
his case overturned and is now being re-tried. Though authorities have
agreed Rosenthal won't serve prison time if convicted, he at one point
faced a possible lifetime prison sentence and millions of dollars in fines.
All the while he has maintained not just his innocence but his moral

"When I was asked by the city of Oakland to become an officer to the city,
I felt it was my duty, not just a civil duty but a biblical duty," he told
the San Francisco Jewish newsweekly j. in 2003; he repeated the comment in
a phone interview last week. "Not doing it would have been a sin of omission."

Laura McGee believes that. Growing up, the Santa Clarita Jewish girl was
plagued by panic attacks so accute, she said that at times she was
hospitalized almost monthly. Doctors tried Prozac and Celexa and Klonopin
and more drugs than she can remember. Some helped, but not without inducing
unbearable mood swings.

When she graduated last year from New Community Jewish High School in West
Hills and moved from her family home, the walls closed in. Her mother tried
what she considered her last resort and took McGee to a pot doc. It seemed
to work. On a recent visit to the Karma Collective, McGee, who now works
there and lives in Karma's Woodland Hills commune, was calm and articulate
and yet indignant about the difficulty of legal access.

"Life and saving your own life and saving another life is the most
important thing in Judaism. So I don't understand how this could be wrong,"
said McGee, 18. "It allowed me to live a normal life. To be happy. I never
thought I would reach this point."

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