O ne of the catchiest, silliest (and, if we're being honest here, most insufferable) songs I've ever heard in my life was embedded in my brain during years of Jewish summer camp and Sunday school. It's called “Wherever You Go, there's Always Someone Jewish,” and it celebrates - surprise - the fact that Jews do in fact live all over the world. I've been blessed to have forgotten about the song in recent years, but I was reminded of it again this week after I spoke to Ben Temer, the co-founder of the International Jewish Cannabis Association (IJCA). Since 2016, the organization, which Temer created with his wife, Dr. Anya Temer, has sought, with substantive success, to celebrate Jews' connection to cannabis, wherever they may be, and to bring more Jewish people around the world into the ever-growing cannabis community. The IJCA has a handful of additional objectives: to break down stigmas around cannabis in the Jewish community, to teach members about Jews' long history with cannabis and to create networking opportunities for members through chapters around the country. Judaism comes in many flavors - from the secular to the ultra-religious, from those passionate about Israel to those opposed to its existence, from the politically progressive to the conservative (to say nothing of the ever-charming Jewish white supremacist in the White House) - and Temer's goal is to construct a big tent so that all Jewish people (and non-Jews, too) feel welcome and excited about cannabis. So far, the ICJA has found success both in their home base of South Florida and beyond: their events have drawn hundreds of attendees and chapters have popped up across the country. The ICJA has addressed crowds at ticketed events at synagogues, community centers and private residences, as well as trade shows like MJBizCon. We caught up with Temer ahead of the launch of the IJCA's new chapter in Los Angeles - occurring in conjunction with the holiday of Tu BiShvat (a celebration of trees, no less) - to hear more about the organization's origins, how they win over skeptics and cannabis' roots in Judaism. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why does the Jewish community need its own cannabis network?
"It's because of the big gap in education about the plant. I've been consulting in the industry for five years now. My wife is a pioneering recommending physicians in the state. What we saw in the community, from our perspective within the industry, and [the lack of] valid resources was not enough by our standards. We wanted to make sure there was a reference, a resource and a trusted outreach organization that would be set up to help people get this knowledge, help and support."
Judaism is a big tent. How do you ensure that the organization is available to as wide a range of people as possible?
"It's about being inclusive and bringing together not only all ranges of Jews but also people of different [monotheistic] religions. We're very available to the needs of everyone from Orthodox circles [to secular Jews]."
Are there particular stigmas that you believe exist around cannabis in Judaism?
"It's just like in most other communities. There's a lot of misinformation from the past that hasn't been debunked or clearly explained. There are questions about legality, psychoactive effects. How will this help me? Will it fry my brain? Can I travel with it? Is it expensive? Because most doctors don't learn about the endocannabinoid system in America, there's a lot of misleading medical information that gets thrown into the hodgepodge of propaganda. For Orthodox members and other Jews, there are questions about whether it's ethically and rabbinically okay to consume cannabis while leading an Orthodox lifestyle. People want [evidence from religious texts]. They want to have a deeper understanding of the background and the role cannabis played in the religion, if any."
What are some examples of their concerns?
"Some of our members are strict kosher. There are quite a lot of questions regarding consumption of products, edibles and how they're deemed kosher. [Members also cite] famous rabbinical responses from about forty years ago regarding cannabis and its use that did not look favorably on consumption, and most importantly, adult-use. Some answers are within the Torah itself or from our sages where they mention the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. There's a few mentions of planting cannabis and how it should be planted among other crops and what crops it's not allowed to be planted next to. There's a lot of evidence to show that cannabis - hemp - has been part of Jewish culture for [a long time]. Today we're finding a lot of medicinal benefits that were unknown in the past. Some of the largest Orthodox and rabbinical organizations have given certifications for medicinal use and even for adult-use. We have a lot of support from the rabbinical community in legalized states and see benefits of cannabis within their own congregations."
Do you work primarily with the Orthodox community?
"No, we work with every community that needs our help: reform, conservative, an event at a Unitarian church. I'm [currently coordinating] a joint event with a Baptist church. We're focused on a renaissance of cannabis from Israel. We're giving the Jewish community a platform to have a voice within the cannabis industry. Beyond that, everything else is left at the door: politics, all the things that differentiate us. We focus on how our common interest and how our commonalities lead to a better understanding of what we'd like to see for our members and in the industry."
What are your goals for the future?
"Our goal is to grow our rabbinical board and essentially get dialogue going regarding these issues so people can reach educated decisions. We're working on a track for young adults to create Birthright trips that combine Jewish Israeli education about the land of Israel with education about the Israeli cannabis program and agriculture." [Editor's note: THC was first isolated by an Israeli scientist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, in 1964].
It's awesome that you co-founded the organization with your wife. What's the value of keeping it in the family?
"It's funny you're saying keeping it in the family (laughs). Even though we're co-founders, our goal is to create this non-profit so that everybody can join. " For more information on the International Jewish Cannabis Association and their upcoming event in Los Angeles, check out their website.