Pubdate: Fri, 13 Feb 2015
Source: Jewish News Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc.
Author: Rebecca Spence


"You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out 
for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter 
with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them?"

That was President Richard Nixon speaking to his top aide, H.R. "Bob" 
Haldeman, during a recorded White House meeting back in 1971.

Fast-forwarding some four decades, a new nonprofit in Oregon is 
hoping to prove Nixon right. Le'Or, founded about a year ago with 
seed funding from a soap manufacturer that uses hemp oil in all of 
its products, wants to convince American Jews that ending marijuana 
prohibition belongs on the progressive Jewish communal agenda 
alongside marriage equality and immigration reform.

"Our goal is to erode the stigma, so that the Jewish community at 
large can see that supporting marijuana legalization is not just the 
right thing to do, it's the Jewish thing to do," said Roy Kaufmann, 
who founded Portland-based Le'Or with his wife, Claire.

Mikki Norris, a longtime marijuana activist who lives in El Sobrante, 
agrees, and she points to her Jewish upbringing for inspiring her 
dedicated work on drug policy reform. "It was the consciousness 
around how wrong it is to persecute and scapegoat other people for 
society's problems," said Norris, who published "Shattered Lives: 
Portraits from America's Drug War" in 1998 and started a pot-advocacy 
newspaper in recent years that evolved into an online news service,

Jane Klein, publisher of her husband Ed Rosenthal's books on 
marijuana - including the classic "Marijuana Grower's Handbook" and 
his most recent tome, "Beyond Buds," which parses oils and edibles - 
said she can't believe how long it's taken for drug law reform to be enacted.

"In 1968 if you had told me that in 2015 we'd still be debating 
marijuana legalization, I would have said you were crazy," said 
Klein, a Piedmont resident. "I'm shocked that it took 50 years, but 
it's happening."

But despite changing attitudes, national Jewish advocacy groups have 
largely hung back on issues of marijuana legalization and drug policy 
reform. Those contacted for this story - including Bend the Arc: A 
Jewish Partnership for Justice and the American Jewish Committee, 
which lobbies Congress on behalf of issues such as immigration reform 
and marriage equality - declined to comment.

"The lack of engagement on this issue by the organized Jewish 
community is not because it's a taboo issue, it's because we have to 
set priorities," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the 
S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. "And this issue has 
not emerged as a priority."

Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish 
Council for Public Affairs - the umbrella body of local community 
relations councils - agreed with Kahn's assessment, but added that as 
the marijuana legalization issue becomes more prevalent, the local 
councils will have to take a closer look.

"I'm not aware of a lot of communities that have delved deeply at 
this point," Felson said. "But it's likely that over the next few 
years that will change."

There has been some action within the Reform movement. In 1999, Women 
of Reform Judaism passed a resolution in support of medical marijuana 
that four years later was adopted by the full Union for Reform Judaism.

The resolution was crafted by Jane Marcus, a Menlo Park resident and 
former co-chair of the WRJ's resolutions committee, who in 2007 
succeeded in passing a more radical WRJ resolution that calls for 
moving drug policy out of the criminal justice system. "Jews have 
always been activists, so once you get it, you've got to fight for 
it," Marcus said.

More recently, the Reform movement's public affairs arm, the 
Religious Action Center, has lobbied Congress on behalf of 
legislation reforming prison sentencing. "The core priority for us 
has been addressing the sentencing disparity between white Americans 
and black Americans who are convicted for drug-related offenses," 
said Barbara Weinstein, the RAC's associate director.

America's war on drugs - launched by Nixon in the 1970s and expanded 
during the Reagan era - has resulted in an unprecedented number of 
U.S. citizens, and a disproportionate number of African American 
males, being sent to prison for drug-related offenses.

Part of the answer, legalization advocates say, is to make marijuana 
a controlled substance on par with alcohol and cigarettes. In 
November, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., joined Colorado and 
Washington in legalizing recreational cannabis use. The four states 
will tax and regulate sales of the plant, while D.C.'s law, which 
sanctioned possession only, has yet to take effect following a 
congressional move to block its implementation.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana is now legal in 23 U.S. states.

Le'Or's Kaufmann has long been a staunch opponent of America's 
decades-long war on drugs. By day the speechwriter for Oregon Gov. 
John Kitzhaber, the Israeli-born 36-year-old got the idea for Le'Or - 
"to illuminate" in Hebrew - when he and his wife began to lament the 
lack of Jewish communal involvement in pushing for marijuana legalization.

"There's a disconnect between the civil rights issue and the number 
of Jewish people who, let's be honest, enjoy the cannabis plant," 
said Claire Kaufmann, now a marketing and branding consultant for the 
burgeoning cannabis industry. "It seems to me to be a contradiction."

Specifically, it outraged the couple that while white Americans - 
themselves included - could casually smoke marijuana and get away 
with it, their black counterparts were far too often arrested and 
incarcerated for the same low-level crime.

"My real passion is the racial and economic injustices," said Claire, 
who blogs about the industry at "I see 
marijuana legalization as the gateway issue to a much larger and more 
uncomfortable issue around prison sentencing reform."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, black Americans use 
drugs at about the same rates as whites but are three to five times 
more likely to be arrested as a result.

In 2012, Roy Kaufmann led the first campaign to legalize marijuana in 
Oregon. He was struck by how few rabbis and Jewish communal leaders 
jumped on board. After the failed bid, he turned to Dr. Bronner's 
Magic Soap Company to back his idea for a Jewish pro-cannabis group.

Dr. Bronner's has played a leading role in hemp and marijuana 
legalization efforts since 2001, when David Bronner, the company's 
president and grandson of the spiritually minded German Jewish soap 
maker, launched a successful lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement 
Agency to allow hemp imports into the United States. The San Diego 
County based company uses non-psychoactive hemp oil imported from 
Canada in its all-natural line of soaps.

"The major drug reform groups in the country are already led by Jews, 
and they're doing it out of a deep-seated commitment to social 
justice," Bronner said. "Furthermore, Israel has been a real pioneer 
in cannabis."

Bronner notes that the leaders of many of America's major drug policy 
reform groups are Jewish. Among the organizations they helm are the 
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit 
that studies the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and marijuana 
and was founded by Jewish Chicago native Rick Doblin. There's also 
the Drug Policy Alliance, whose founder and executive director, Ethan 
Nadelmann, is the son of a prominent Reconstructionist rabbi and 
links his policy work to "the broader Jewish tradition of fighting 
for social justice."

In 1996, DPA opened its first branch office in San Francisco, with 
the goal of making the city a model for drug policy. For 12 years, 
the office was led by San Francisco resident Marsha Rosenbaum, who 
specializes in drug education for youth and believes that 
legalization for adults will turn out to be a positive for kids and teenagers.

"Right now people think of marijuana as a controlled substance, but 
that couldn't be further from the truth," said Rosenbaum, who 
currently serves on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission to 
study statewide legalization in 2016. "With legalization comes 
regulation and control, and if the medical marijuana dispensaries are 
any indication, kids are not going to be able to get into them."

Marijuana legalization advocates and members of community groups at a 
2012 rally in New York against marijuana arrests photo/jta-getty 
images-spencer platt Another Bay Area Jewish cannabis activist is 
William Panzer, an Oakland-based criminal defense attorney who has 
become one of the country's leading marijuana lawyers. Panzer, 59, 
cut his teeth on high-profile drug law cases in the late 1980s and 
helped draft Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in 
California. "People should not go to jail for growing a plant that's 
incredibly helpful and non-toxic," said Panzer.

Some Jews, however, are actively working to block marijuana legalization.

In Florida, where a November bid to legalize medical marijuana lost 
by 3 percentage points, Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson pumped $5 
million into the campaign to defeat its passage. The casino mogul's 
Israeli-born wife, Miriam, is a drug addiction specialist who runs a 
rehabilitation center in Las Vegas and believes that marijuana is a 
"gateway drug" to harder, more dangerous substances - a belief that 
legalization advocates dispute, citing studies to the contrary.

But if Le'Or has its way, Florida could indeed legalize medical 
marijuana in the next election cycle  and California might well take 
the next step and allow recreational use.

"We're talking about some of the biggest Jewish communities in the 
U.S.," Roy Kaufmann said. "I look at 2016 and I think, 'This is an 
opportunity to start building something now.'
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom