Culture, Politics, Religion

Two lawyers, a drug counselor and a rabbi walk into a synagogue…

…to discuss the legal, medical and ethical ins and outs of Proposition 19–California’s ballot measure to
legalize the recreational use of marijuana. And it was pretty fascinating.
The panel discussion was held at a Reform Synagogue in Beverly Hills and involved a distinguished and well-informed group of experts including former LA County Prosector Sheldon Lodmer (who was involved in landmark cases such as the Manson murder trials and was the prosecutor in the Deep Throat case), Allison Margolin (an LA attorney who focuses her legal work on defending clients in marijuana related cases), Bernadine Fried (the founder and manager of two LA sober living facilities) and Rabbi Elliot Dorff (the rector of the American Jewish University and world renowned ethicist and theologian, and the chair of Committee on Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement).
Many topics were discussed directly related to Prop 19 and some under the general category of drug use/abuse, civil society and the Jewish perspective on healthy living. Mr. Lodmer was the only panelist who was outspoken in his opposition to Prop 19 not only because of its implications, but also because of what he referred to as the fact that it is “written poorly.” Since this is a Jewish blog, I want to focus on Rabbi Dorff’s perspectives and open the comment field to our reader’s responses (especially those who may be voting next week in CA).

Rabbi Dorff basically made the following arguments:
Judaism supports enjoying life, however this must be done with respect to God and recognizing that God is the ultimate owner of our bodies–he compared the relationship to that of a tenant and landlord. A tenant has permission to reasonably use an apartment or house, but cannot destroy it at whim.
Rabbi Dorff also equated legalizing marijuana (which he seemed to ultimately support) to possibly falling under the category of לפני עיור לא תתן מכשול (lifnei iver lo titein mikhshol, do not place a stumbling block before the blind) in that there are likely many citizens who would not otherwise partake in marijuana by virtue of its illegality who may find themselves addicted to it after its legality permits them to use it. It was also made clear, from a halakhic perspective, that an observant Jew would still be forbidden from possessing or cultivating marijuana in the event Prop 19 is passed because by federal law it would still be illegal and therefore falls under the category of דינא דמלכותא דינא (dina d’malkhuta dina, the law of the authority is the law).
However, Rabbi Dorff seemed to be in favor of its passage because he believed jurisdiction could be passed in its aftermath to a) prevent workplace and public consumption of marijuana, b) there are far worse concerns in sugar, tobacco and alcohol–which are all legal in varying forms and c) European countries such as the Netherlands and England have had positive benefits from decriminalizing and legalizing drugs in their systems. Rabbi Dorff seemed to advocate treating drugs in society as a medical concern, rather than a criminal concern.
My personal feelings would add to that list the possible tax revenue generated to municipalities in a bankrupt state.
So what do people think? Polls show that Prop 19 should pass by a small margin (although some calculate its support as high as 60%) and many feel that the federal government will not allow its passage to actually take effect in the event it does pass. If you’re in CA, do you intend to vote in favor or against Prop 19? If you’re out of CA, would you want to see such a ballot measure in your home state (for those states that have ballot measures)? Is this something readers think should be dealt with on a national level or leave to states to determine for themselves? Are there other issues/factors/concerns/interests in relation, specifically, to the Jewish tradition and the Jewish community?

4 thoughts on “Two lawyers, a drug counselor and a rabbi walk into a synagogue…

  1. In reviewing the pros and cons in the voter information booklet, I found the most compelling arguments to be from MADD, mothers against drunk driving. As there is currently no means of determing if or how much thc (the active ingredient in marijuana) ,is in anyones bloodstream, there is no means of enforcement of if someone is driving stoned or just how stoned they are. As written the law says you can’t smoke while driving and I think for 15 minutes prior but none of this is at all meaningful if it’s not enforceable.
    While I tend to agree with Rabbi Dorf’s ethical positions and the arguments for legalizing to be able to regulate.and preclude criminal elements from profiting, the thought of stoned teenagers, and yes, baby boomers and truck drivers on the road is truly frightening. How many fatalities or injury accident is it worth for this extension of freedoms. If there were a law proposed that addressed those issues i’d be for it. As written i’m against it. LA traffic is enough of a nightmare without adding bad trips to the mix!

  2. just fyi, Ely, this is not wholly correct. A DUI is a DUI is a DUI and the lawbooks in CA say that driving under the influence is illegal in CA. Prop 19 cannot change that. There are any number of reasons to question or reject Prop 19, but driving should not be a concern for two reasons. a) police and medical studies have shown that people driving under the influence of marijuana are no more likely to cause an accident than those driving at the legal limit of blood alcohol content, and b) a DUI is DUI so anyone caught driving under the influence of marijuana will be arrested. Prop 19 legalizes possession, cultivation and allows municipalities to regulate and tax–it is not going to allow people to get off of DUIs.

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