Israel’s medical marijuana community has grown significantly in the past seven years; whereas once a single doctor administered to 62 patients, now nine doctors serve the needs of over 9,000 patients across the country. This growth has led to an interesting question for religious patients: how will the upcoming sabbatical year affect the production of medical marijuana?
One IDF veteran approached Israel’s Chief Rabbinate with the following question: “I receive grass as a medication. The shmita year will begin in four months, and observant IDF disabled veterans have been asking themselves whether the grass should be grown differently, like fruits and vegetables.” M. is a religious soldier suffering from shell-shock.
According to the Torah, every seven years the land must be left fallow. Farmers are prohibited from planting, plowing or harvesting. Produce that grows on its own naturally is considered ownerless, and anyone is permitted to harvest for themselves what they and their family can use for a few days only.
Since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, many creative solutions have been found to allow society to function in our post-industrial age without transgressing these laws. Now a solution was needed for marijuana, too.
The Rabbinate determined that medical marijuana is completely permissible during the sabbatical, or shmita, year. Since it is used medicinally, and not as food, users should not be concerned.
The Rabbis cautioned, however, that this applies only to medical use: recreational use is prohibited at all times due to the general prohibition on drug use.
“It’s like asking if one can drive 300 kilometers per hour on Shabbat,” said Efraim Zalmanovich, the rabbi of the central Israeli town of Mazkeret Batya.
It should be noted that most marijuana would not present a shmita problem, anyway, since it is produced either in raised-bed greenhouses or hydroponically. Both those methods are considered by Jewish law to be disconnected from the earth, and therefore not subject to the laws of shmita. In fact, many vegetables are produced that way in Israel precisely to avoid problems during shmita year.