Recently, the OU granted certification to pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana extract products manufactured by Vireo Health of New York.
There has been much confusion and misinformation about these products, and the OU has received numerous communications expressing surprise about the OU decision to grant certification to marijuana products. Two main concerns have been expressed: a) OU endorsement of marijuana products may create an impression that recreational use of marijuana is acceptable, and this may lead to increased use of marijuana and other addictive substances. b) OU products designed for medicinal use will most likely make their way into the wrong hands.
While these concerns are understandable, they reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of these products and the manner in which they are dispensed.
The OU supervision is limited to medical marijuana which is fundamentally different than recreational marijuana. This OU certified product is sold only in New York State in designated centers in one of the most tightly controlled programs in the world, and it is unlikely that its use will lead lead to substance abuse.
In July 2014 the New York State Legislature enacted the Compassionate Care Act to provide safe and effective medical marijuana treatment for qualifying patients. This act enjoyed bipartisan support in the State’s Assembly and Senate. Being fully aware of the risks and dangers of legalized marijuana sales, the New York State Legislature established extremely strict and rigorous guidelines for the sale of this product.
To qualify, a patient must be a New York resident or must be treated in New York, and must be certified by a New York physician who is registered with the New York State Department of Health to recommend medical marijuana use. There are 10 serious medical conditions that qualify a patient: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease. In addition, these conditions must have the following associated or complicating conditions: cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, and seizures or severe or persistent muscle spasms.
If approved, the patient receives a special identification card which must be presented to purchase the product.
Five manufacturers have been authorized in New York State to produce high-quality pharmaceutical grade medical marijuana, which is fundamentally different than typical recreational marijuana. Each facility may have up to four dispensing locations in New York State. The patient must show his identification card to make purchases at these designated facilities. The product cannot be purchased at any other location.
Because of these tight controls and the nature of pharmaceutical grade medical marijuana, it is extremely unlikely that these medicines will be used in any other manner than the intended use.
Some have also suggested that a natural product, derived from the Cannabis plant, for a life-threatening condition, does not require certification. This is factually incorrect. The OU certified kosher marijuana product comes in three forms: pills, oils and vapor. While the cannabis plant is inherently kosher, the final product may contain kosher-sensitive ingredients such as alcohol, gelatin and oil. The qualifying medical conditions are not always life threatening, and even in such instances where there is a threat to life, it is preferable to use a kosher medication when available.
The OU endorsed these products after careful review and consideration by our distinguished Rabbinic consultants.
The OU stands by its decision to certify medical marijuana products that offer significant value to alleviate the suffering resulting from serious and debilitating medical conditions. New York residents who are experiencing intense pain, can now use OU supervised Vireo Health medical marijuana and not be concerned that the product might contain non-kosher ingredients.