This piece was co-written by Michelle Janikian and Catherine Goldberg. Images courtesy of Mitzva Herbal Co.
As the push for cannabis legalization continues to garner support across the nation, a variety of cultural, political, and even religious groups are getting involved in the green rush. One such demographic is the Orthodox Jewish community, members of which are turning to cannabis for its medical and therapeutic uses. In a recent statement, CEO of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Menachem Genack, said that “using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as a ‘chet,’ a sinful act, but rather as a ‘mitzvah,’ an imperative, a commandment.”
Of course, infused edibles must be declared Kosher, like any other products ingested by observant Jews. There has been some debate concerning the “Kosherness” of cannabis in the past, including last year when Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky declared marijuana Kosher and blessed the leaves of the plant before Passover. Others have stated that cannabis, like lettuce, is Kosher, as long as it’s free of insects. And if cannabis is in an edible, it’s fair-game so long as the recipe doesn’t mix meat with milk. Also important to note: observant Jews can’t grind up flower or light a fire to smoke a joint on the Shabbat.
As a result of the religious community’s changing attitudes, companies like Mitzva Herbal Co. are beginning to enter the legal cannabis industry. Based in California, Mitzvah Herbal sells the first and only 100% certified OU Kosher edibles on the market, including cookies, brownies, and gourmet swiss chocolates, all with 10 mg of THC, CBD, or both. Mitzva’s founder, Shifra Klein, is a mother of four. She’s both part of the Orthodox community in Los Angeles and a proponent of medical marijuana. Two of Shifra’s children have special needs and experience symptoms that cannabis has helped alleviate, and their lives have been greatly impacted by the medicinal use of CBD oil.
Despite blessings from top rabbis and her following religious laws, Klein has still struggled operating a canna-business within the Orthodox community. Yet, her perseverance has helped many find relief, and she intends to expand the business in the near future. Shifra’s journey with cannabis within the Orthodox community has been challenging and inspiring, as I learned when she shared her thoughts with MERRY JANE in a recent conversation.
MERRY JANE: You’re an Orthodox Jewish mother of four kids. How did you get into the cannabis business?
Shifra Klein: I have been in education my entire life. As a Special Education teacher, I have come across many children on medication for various reasons. Many of those medications have severe side effects. I always thought to myself, "There has to be a better alternative," but it wasn't until it directly impacted our own children that we started on our personal journey of doing real research and learning the facts about cannabis and its benefits.
Tell me about your kids before and after cannabis.
We have two children that are currently using cannabis to treat their symptoms. Their medicine is prescribed by a doctor who specializes in dosing cannabis to children. Our 12-year-old son with Autism is currently being weaned off of his meds that he has been taking for many years, prescribed by a well-known pediatric psychiatrist at UCLA. Because there are no medications specifically made to treat Autism, he has been taking various other meds that often help with some of the Autism symptoms (toe walking, flapping arms, head banging, speech, eye stimming, sensory issues, insomnia, etc.). We haven't seen a dramatic shift in his behaviors, until we started with the CBD oil!
He went from a few selective words here and there to immediately putting together full sentences! We told his school he started new meds and that we needed a log of his behaviors every day to keep track of his progress. Every report since he started CBD oil has been great! The reports are [that he is] more calm, able to attend, more productive, able to focus, more verbal and better eye contact. At home, we are seeing the same results, plus he is sleeping through the night now without any sleep aids.
Our 11-year-old daughter has been on Ritalin for two years for severe ADHD. The side effects from the Ritalin have been dramatic. She suffers from nausea for most the day and her lack of appetite has cause her to lose 35 lbs and rely on supplement drinks and an added vitamin regimen for nutrition. She also suffers from mood swings from the Ritalin. Since switching over to the CBD oil, she is more regulated in all areas, able to focus in school and is getting proper sleep at night. Overall, she is a happier and healthier child and aware of the positive changes in her life and all our lives since the start of cannabis.
What would you like all parents of special needs children to understand about medical cannabis treatment?
This is another option out there. We were persuaded from multiple doctors that we trust not to turn to cannabis as an alternative because of supposed lack of research and effect. It seems ridiculous to me, as a parent and now as a caregiver, to turn to cannabis as a last resort.
Healthier options must be a first try before turning to hardcore drugs that negatively affect our babies’ systems and disrupt their lives. Don't be scared and don't let anyone intimidate you. You are your child's best advocate. I would suggest trying it and seeing if you are happy with the results. If you are not, then stop, no harm no foul. At least you know you gave it a shot and went all and any lengths for your child, as they deserve.
Your product, Mitza Herbal, is totally Kosher. Can you tell me more about your product and to what lengths you have to go to make it Kosher?
It was no easy task getting Kosher certification for our products, but it was well worth it. It took a lot of time, effort, convincing, hard work, and of course, money. The Orthodox Union is the world's largest and most widely recognized kosher certification agency certifying over 800,000 products located in 100 countries around the world. The OU, termed, "The coveted seal of approval,” by the New York Times, certifies that the products made by Mitzva Herbal Co. are certified kosher at the highest standards and are currently the only Kosher infused edibles in the US.
Our kitchen, where our products are made and packaged, has been checked thoroughly by an OU certified Rabbi and is checked randomly and regularly, ensuring our kitchen and ingredients meet all approval standards and only the cleanest and top ingredients are used in our products. All our products are produced with cannabis-infused (natural extraction) organic oil and sent out to a lab for testing before production. How we see it at Mitzva Herbal Co. is we would only feed our patients what we would feed to our own children. We live by these words and treat our patients with the utmost respect and we respect what they are ingesting, as well. Right now, we do all our own extractions, baking, packaging, marketing, etc. We are rapidly growing and are now approaching the time to expand.
What was the process like to getting OU certification?
We knew it would take months, possibly years, to get the OU on board with us, but it was important for us to strive for the very best and aim high. We wanted a certification that worked for everyone, that everyone holds in the best regard and that was trustworthy. It was again, bringing that level of comfort that we like to create for our patients. It was important to us that all walks of life — people who keep Kosher, people who don’t keep Kosher, Hassidim, Orthodox, reform, modern — have access to this vital medicine.
You’ve received some pushback from the Orthodox community. Can you tell me a little about that?
We find that people fear what they don't know. When we receive negativity or criticism from people in our community, we take it in stride. We know that most pushback is from a lack of knowledge or miseducation. We actually don’t mind the pushback because it gives us the opportunity to educate. That is a big component of what we do at Mitzva Herbal Co. Not only to reassure the community that we are not “selling drugs” or causing harm, but that we are here to help and bring healing.
I heard a Rabbi called you in need at 1AM. Can you tell me more about that night and how you go to people’s homes to help them register for their MMJ card through HelloMD? How do you think we can educate the Orthodox community about the benefits of medical cannabis?
Many people in the religious community do not have a doctor’s rec and don't know how to even start the process. Many people are afraid of getting a rec, having people know they have a rec, and they’re scared to even enter a dispensary. We are an affiliate of HelloMD.com, so you can receive your rec right from our website in the comfort of your own home. You can speak to the doctor on your screen with or without us present. Many of our patients request we are with them during their interview to discuss a treatment plan directly with their doctor. If the doctor prescribes something that we do not make ourselves, we will go to the dispensary for the patient so they don’t have to. Half of our patient base is not only not religious, but not Jewish at all. When we ask them why they choose us over any other collective or dispensary, we are told there is a level of trust, care, and comfort that we provide for our patients that you can't get anywhere else.
We recently had a Rabbi in town call us in the middle of the night to provide pain relief after a procedure. This was a Rabbi who had heard about Mitzva Herbal Co. and was “less than thrilled” about our endeavor. As much as he begged and pleaded, we told him that because we could not get him a prescription during the night and he would have to wait for the morning to receive any product. We have guidelines and procedures. The next morning, he called us back and said that he appreciated us not bending, even for him, and said that he wanted to learn more about cannabis and what we are doing for the community. We know it will take time, but we believe in it enough to keep pushing forward.
We have patients that receive their chemo treatments at Cedars-Sinai and other local hospitals. We meet with them there to sit with them during their treatments, support them, hold their baby, listen to their stories, and offer options for relief. We go to their homes, take them out to coffee — we go the distance and do what it takes to make the patient as comfortable as possible. Let's face it, we know when they took the step to come to us; we are usually the last resort. They are already as uncomfortable as possible, so what better a 'mitzvah’ can we do then bring comfort?
What message do you want the Orthodox community to hear? Maybe not necessarily agree with, but just listen to?
We plan on expanding our education to various Jewish communities, not only one-on-one. We have plans to start visiting synagogues and Jewish community centers to open dialogue and start the conversation on cannabis as a tool for healing. To educate the community leaders and Rabbis so the people that are looked up to understand and can support this movement. We would love to have a committee of rabbis and religious community members in the medical field to be able to back us and provide that comfort level for the community.
Tell us a little bit more about your products at Mitzah Herbal Co.
We now offer about 14 different products, but our product line is expanding. Each of our products are offered in either THC, CBD, or Hybrid. We currently offer three different brownie flavors, 3 flavors of crispy cereal treats, six different flavors of gourmet Swiss chocolates (such as praline, caramel, mint, etc.), three different flavors of cookies, as well as peanut butter bites and more. This summer we will be adding to the menu: hard candies, gummy treats, chocolate covered pretzels, muffins, granola, tinctures, and more. We will also be offering seasonal items and holiday items such as chocolate bark, Hanukkah chocolate coins, hamentashen for Purim, chocolate covered Matzah for Passover, etc. We also have our organic infused coconut oil available in 1 oz. bottles.
Our products are dosed no larger than 10mg a piece to ensure precise dosing for medical purposes. We can microdose our items as low as 1mg a piece. We offer our products in multiples so if you need a higher amount of milligrams you can dose yourself more accurately than trying to figure out if you broke the right amount off of a 150mg brownie. This has been particularly beneficial for dosing kids appropriately, as well as much of our patient base who are not experienced with edibles. We want to make sure their first experience with an edible is a good one.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share about the future of your company?
We are definitely now looking to take Mitzva Herbal Co. to the next level. We feel like this has touched so many people, but we are only just at the beginning. We are considering investment opportunities, joint ventures, and looking at our options beyond servicing only California. We feel truly blessed to be where we are at, but are ready to share the 'mitzva' of Mitzva Herbal Co. and our philosophy of bringing comfort even further.
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