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In Berkeley, three Orthodox Jews run a medical-marijuana collective selling a religiously inspired cannabis cream

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Doc Green’s co-founder Ramona Rubin. (Rebecca Spence)

On a late summer afternoon in Berkeley, California, Eliezer “Sticky” Green, a bearded hipster in hemp shorts and a Green Festival T-shirt, is sitting across the street from his medical-marijuana collective, smoking a joint. It’s not an uncommon sight in the East Bay—home of the country’s first cannabis trade school, Oaksterdam University—but an hour later Green is doing something a bit more out of character for the Bay Area: He’s wrapping tefillin and davening mincha, the afternoon prayers.

In Northern California, even the religious Jews light up.

Green, 32, is a founding member of Doc Green’s, a medical-marijuana collective established by Orthodox Jews, who, like the late kabbalistic rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, believe that cannabis was one of the ingredients in the holy anointing oil described in the Torah. Working in a commercial loft space where sets of the Zohar and Midrash line the bookshelves and the Grateful Dead is heard as often as Hasidic melodies, the collective’s founders combine cannabis extract with fair-trade shea butter to produce Doc Green’s therapeutic healing cream, a medicinal lotion used to treat ailments from sore muscles to eczema.

“As a Jew, it’s about the power to be able to heal people,” says Green, whose father is a retired Orthodox rabbi. “I want to go to nursing homes and rub down 85-year-olds who voted for Republicans and hated pot.”

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, leading to the creation of patient collectives like Doc Green’s, which sells lotion to its roughly 300 members. Medical-marijuana collectives operate as non-profit entities and provide access to legal, usually high-grade cannabis for those with a doctor’s recommendation. While most collectives offer marijuana and often have a storefront dispensary, Doc Green’s is the rare collective that supplies its members with a topical lotion—which, for better or worse, does not get you high.

Next week, California voters will decide on Proposition 19, a controversial ballot initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the state, thereby legalizing recreational use and allowing citizens to possess up to an ounce of it. Proponents argue that if legalized, revenues from the $14-billion-a-year industry—which accounts for two-thirds of the business transacted in Mendocino County alone—would help to reinvigorate California’s battered economy.

The Doc Green’s founders are among a small group of religious Jews in their collective—which includes Jews and non-Jews alike—but they are not the only religious Jews in the hemp business. They are part of a loose network of Orthodox cannabis growers and purveyors that extends north to Mendocino County and south to Los Angeles, where until a recent crackdown, medical-marijuana dispensaries outnumbered Starbucks outlets. Doc Green’s sources the majority of its cannabis from what is most likely the only Sabbath-observant pot farm in the so-called Emerald Triangle—shorthand for Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. At the farm, a lighting system runs on timers, and a shabbos goy refills the generator several times throughout the Sabbath.

Green grew up in an Orthodox home and spent much of his childhood in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, but his Doc Green’s co-founders Ramona Rubin and Daniel Kosmal are both ba’alei teshuva, or secular Jews who embraced Orthodoxy by choice. Kosmal, a lanky 37-year-old with soft blue eyes and side curls tucked neatly beneath a cap, embraced Judaism while studying conservation as an undergrad at the University of California, Berkeley. Rubin is a puckish 33-year-old who spent her college years as a grassroots environmental activist. (Disclosure: She is also my downstairs neighbor.) In 1997, Rubin was arrested for sitting in the path of a logging truck in Headwaters Forest, an old-growth Redwood reserve on the Northern California coast. After a three-day hunger strike in solitary confinement, she had a religious awakening and became shomer shabbos, or strictly Sabbath observant. Some 10 years later, Rubin, Green, and Kosmal held their first Doc Green’s meeting at a national Rainbow Gathering.

Their lives may seem very distant from most traditional Jewish communities, but location is everything. The Bay Area has long been known for its romance with experimental culture and life on the fringes, and observant Jews here are no exception. The Bay Area was a center of the Jewish Renewal movement, which in the 1970s sought to re-energize Judaism through song and Eastern-tinged spirituality. In some ways, the Orthodox medical marijuana enthusiasts are simply the latest iteration of the vanguard Jewish culture that has flourished here since locals began wrapping themselves in rainbow-colored talisses and practicing Jewish meditation at the aquarian minyan some 40 years ago.

The lotion that came to be known as Doc Green’s is the brainchild of Kosmal, who first concocted it two years ago while working as an environmental lawyer in Humboldt County. Inspired by the use of cannabis in ancient Chinese medicine and by stories of African slaves who rubbed cannabis oil on skin ailments, Kosmal started mixing small batches of lotion for friends and family. When early results proved promising, Kosmal teamed up with Rubin, who holds a master’s degree in public health and was working at a substance-abuse clinic for Native Americans, to refine the formula. These days, their bottles of lavender- and vanilla-scented lotion line the shelves of more than 100 medical-marijuana dispensaries across the state.

Because medical-marijuana studies in the United States have been hamstrung by the plant’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug—the same classification as heroin, which makes studies exceedingly difficult to conduct—the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of topical cannabis have yet to be confirmed by research. But that might change; Dr. Janet Weiss, a Berkeley-based doctor and medical toxicologist who has been performing community-based medical marijuana studies for the past 10 years, is preparing to launch a double-blind study that will test the effectiveness of Doc Green’s on muscle pain and arthritis, as well as eczema. “We have a very keen interest in doing this because it’s the head of the snake,” says Weiss. “If you believe that medical marijuana has something to do with medicine, you’re better off looking at the effects of topical rather than the effects of getting stoned.”

Anecdotal evidence and the collective’s growing membership rolls would suggest that the lotion does have therapeutic benefits. Paull E. Rubin, a 56-year-old guitar player who suffers from severe arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome (and no relation to Doc Green’s Rubin), says that using Doc Green’s lotion for the past year has significantly alleviated his symptoms. “I’m able to play 32nd notes and keep up with the metal and bluegrass players if I have to,” says Rubin, who massages it into his hands and joints before playing. “It removes all the aches and pains and will last sometimes for 16 or 18 hours.”

Stories like that inspire the nearly messianic fervor of Kosmal, one of Doc Green’s founders. “In Judaism, there is an essence of taking care of each other and healing each other,” he says. “It’s the idea of tzedakah, which is recognizing someone’s lack, in this case their health, and filling that lack.” He even dreams of bringing Doc Green’s to Israel. “If you have a medicine,” he says, “you want to share it with your family.”

But will members of that larger family—Orthodox Jews outside of Berkeley—want to partake? Certainly, smoking marijuana has long been frowned upon in traditional Jewish circles for a number of reasons, ranging from the Jewish precept against escapism to the commandment that Jews should not harm their bodies. But if using topical cannabis turns out to be helpful to the body, might it be accepted?

Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of Jewish law and ethics at Loyola University who is Orthodox, says that if the lotion’s efficacy is backed up by Western medical research, the answer is yes. “I think the traditional community would not have any problem with topical cannabis if it were sanctioned by the medical community,” Adlerstein says.

Still, he was skeptical of the claim that the oil used on the likes of King David contained cannabis. “To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in Jewish text that mentions cannabis,” Adlerstein says. “It might be a product of these people’s imagination or what they were smoking.”

Either way, Green’s 68-year-old mother, Margie—who wears the modest dress of an Orthodox woman, but spices it up with gold bangles and a sparkly, black velvet baseball cap—is happy to indulge in a little lotion. Watching her son wrap tefillin in the Doc Green’s production space, she sings its praises. “I’ve used it for cramps in my leg, and it goes away,” she says. But like every Jewish mother, she’s also ready with a critique. “The vanilla smells like plastic,” she says. “The lavender is much better.”

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WOW! How can non-members get it and for how much?

Reader says:

Why is he wrapping tefillin for mincha? That’s technically possible, but it’s unusual. Is he too stoned to wake up on time for shacharit?

Eliyahu says:

To Reader: Jews used to wear tefillin for the entire day, there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact its praiseworthy. So, not only are you trying to say bad things about him, you’re ignorant too? How about you lighten up and not be so critical — maybe you could use some of their products.

When I was in Yeshiva as a teenager I heard from a Chassidishe Rebbe that the pipe that the Baal Shem Tov smoked was often filled with marijuana. If this is a myth or true I can not say but marijuana/hashish were to found in Eastern Europe/Southern Russia.

Idaleh says:

It warms my heart to see this promotional article about my Bay Area friends and Doc Green’s. I know all 3 of you well enough to say that your intentions to help other people are pure and that you will put out an effective product. I sincerely hope this business venture takes off for you (and everyone else) and you’ll all laugh your ways to the bank!

I love DocGreen’s! Like I said in the article, it works wonders for days, and my 82 year old Mom now is using it for severe back pain following a major spinal fusion surgery with great results. I don’t endorse many products, but this is one you can certainly count on!

pinney says:

Kol Hakevod! It is indeed a great lotion and these are some of the kindest people i have ever met in my life!

davidwag says:

Seriously, w/o trying to be offensive, why was he wrapping tefillin for Mincha (i.e., not wearing them all day, which itself would be unusual due to its rarity in any case)? Can the author answer this question?

Go Sticky!!!!

Japati says:

My cousin is a lubavicher rabbi and he often sleeps late and wraps tfillin in the afternoon. Once while on vacation in Italy I wandered in on the shaliach who whose laying tfillin at 2:30 PM.
If my memory for history holds, I believe that first fights of mignadim vs hassidim was over the latter’s repudiation of traditional times for davening, etc.

Naftoli says:

As a Lubavitcher – who has a “normal” job in IT and is at work well before 8:00am after attending shul – I must point out that the idea of putting on tefillin/davening late is not something that is a matter of course. The justification for Chassidim of yore (Lubavitchers and others) davening late in the day is that they were up early learning and meditating on G-d & G-dliness. Their davening often took many hours due to their concentration on the words and meaning of what they were saying.

The idea of waking up late and davening at Mincha time is a modern corruption of this idea. Those that do it regularly are certainly not living a true Chassidic (dare I add Jewish) life – whether rabbis or lay people.

Just another example of how hemp and marijuana are making change from the “bottom-up” This movement is making headway and it is great to see an innovative product like this. I am going to pass this on to corporate at the hemp network. They are adding products all the time.

Dave

I’ve read dozens of books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and I can’t recall him ever mentioning cannabis.

@Pete, see: Kaplan, Aryeh (1981). The Living Torah. New York. p. 442.

@Joan, If you are in California speak to a doctor about a recommendation for (topical) cannabis. Outside of California, let’s work to reform marijuana laws and let research demonstrate the safety and efficacy.

motty "chap'a'tooke" says:

Sticky, this is awesome… I heard great stuff about your product and I wish you thje best of luck. we’re all proud of you. You were always a maven on good marijuana ;) keep up the good work and don’t forget your old buddies in New York when you become all famous n stuff.

1- T’fillin: The commandment is to put on T’fillin. If in the event circumstances do not permit one to do so within the prescribed morning prayer hours, one is still commanded to fulfill the mitzva. So if 2:30pm is the first possible moment, so be it. Secondly, today, in a time of increased conscious devotion to mitzvot, there are many who also put on T’fillin for Mincha. While not a requirement, doing so is laudetory, for indeed, in former good days, we wore T’fillin all day. We stopped because our capacity to maintain aware consciousness of HaShem (a requirement when wearing T’fillin) throughout the day had become impossible in the Exile. So, indeed, it is laudetory for one to increase the amount of time invested in one’s day in focusing on HaShem and donning the T’fillin for Mincha.

There was no suggestion that Mr. Green did not donn the T’fillin in the morning. Assuming so betrays ones committment to fulfilling the Talmudic dictum of being ‘Mekabel L’Dan Kav S’chut’ – receiving one with the assumption of merit.

2- In our 4000 year history, cannabis was never declared ‘unkosher’. It is a modern political act in the U.S. from the 1925and founded on lies about it due to pressure from pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Indeed, in the Torah in Bereshit it states that we are to make use of ‘all the green grasses in the field’.

3- Any skepticism about ‘Doc Green’s’ ointment is solely based upon cognitive dissonance. The only conceivable limitation on its use is if it didn’t work. Until 1925, cannabis was an accepted medicinal product in many forms. There’s just no one alive today who remembers. Indeed the illegality of cannabis was suspended during World War II. Ever heard of ‘Hemp For Victory’? See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0xHCkOnn-A

I heard from a makor musmach beyoser (bechoroy sheyichyeh) that during the Purim seudah Rav Aryeh would spark up a joint & take a few drags. This was the only time of the year that he smoked kenebosem.

Also, the Green mishchah was baduk u’menusah a couple of years ago by a prominent Rabbi on Binyomin’s vineyard, & he attested that when he woke up the next day he had a most mellow mellow morning…

> “like the late kabbalistic rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, believe that cannabis was one of the ingredients in the holy anointing oil described in the Torah”

I think it would’ve been more accurate to say:
“like the late kabbalistic rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, believe that cannabis MAY HAVE BEEN one of the ingredients in the holy anointing oil described in the Torah”

B, I heard from a makor musmach beyoser that you would do the same thing.
Hey, as long as we’re tossing reckless allegations around…

Yishar Coach! I am glad to know Doc Greens is getting such good exposure. The folks and the product are both of highest quality and integrity. This is a product and an awareness which their time has come. BeHatzlacha!

ShlomoW says:

B”H
There should be a website for 420 friendly
single Orthodox Jews to meet each other for marriage.

Hopefully 1 day we’d be able to buy it in grocery stores.. I would drink this stuff if I could.

Regarding the Teffilin: Hey, at least he put them on. (I just hope it wasn’t on the Sabbath but anyways who cares????? It’s between him & G-d. I don’t think Jews need any more prosecutors…)

Keep on healing the world dudes. Just stay away from nursing homes…
Peace!!!!!!!!!!!

Great,I like, and we are the great led bulb factroy.

“As a Jew, it’s about the power to be able to heal people. I want to go to nursing homes and rub down 85-year-olds who voted for Republicans and hated pot.”

So what you’re saying is that you’re also as ideologically motivated as you’re moved by your desire to “heal people” with an ingredient that is a placebo at best.

What rubbish.

-Theo

viviana says:

Keep on shinning!

Thanks for opening up this discourse, very interesting. @ Shlomo, I agree!

yoelish says:

GO STICKY! always new u were a businessman. u just had to find the right business to get into. boy do i miss those ganja-goo-balls! bracha v’hatzlacha! now go get urself a shidduch.

Israel_B says:

Looking forward to the next article telling us that the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers were OTD Chasidim.

Please. A stoner is a stoner is a stoner. Whether they are wearing “dreads” or wearing peyos.

Get a haircut, get a life, get a job.

Nice to see all this commotion!

Although I’m not a toker, I am a friend and neighbor of the author of the Nachlaot classic “Cannabis Chassidis’ which I found interesting.

I also lived up in Humboldt for years (never smoking…can you believe it?!) and I miss the groovy culture a bit.

Anyhow Kol Kavod on this venture and may it come to Israel!

Dashiell says:

X said “To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in Jewish text that mentions cannabis,” Adlerstein says. “It might be a product of these people’s imagination or what they were smoking.”
But the Greek term (cannabis) was employed by the Sages in the Mishnah (fields of diverse seeds), Rashi on the Gemara in Shabbos (Bameh Madlikin), the Shulchan Aruch on ingedients for the wick of the Shabbos light, and other places, but not until 1973 (the Igros Moshe) did anyone see it as anything but a helpful agricultural product.

Laurel says:

I have a bottle of each scent in my possession, and I was thrilled to finally read an in-depth article on the who’s and where’s of this quaint little product. I never liked pot, but I’m all for its legalization and medicinal use. Last January when my feet and hands decided to tingle chronically (like they were asleep, but they weren’t) it was brought to my attention. I placed my hopes in it. Unfortunately I felt no difference whatsoever. Darn! This article reminded me that I still have a lot left and should try it again.

Also, Margie Green’s right, the vanilla is a real low-rent version. The lavendar is only slightly better.

But as for me, I ended up enduring a damned 2 months’ wait to see a Neurologist–a great one at that–who put me through a battery of tests. His finding: We just don’t know what in my history caused it, but that if my discomfort was so bad that I sought out medical marijuana, then yes, I can get an Rx for standard meds. (Oh and btw, those didn’t help either so I’m just enduring it.)

Back to Dr. Green’s, I guess!

Don Zusya Goodman says:

Baruch Hashem:
My father S.J. Goodman M.S.M.E. author of ‘Asleep at the Geiger Counter,’ with more than 50 years of experience of assessing the efficiency and safety designs told me that Hemp is a viable renewable fuel source.
I eat shelled Hemp Seeds, Hemp Butter all delicious and Kosher.
Let’s get this stuff leagalized for all of its’ uses not just medical.
We allow carcinogenic substances to be legal. Why not let bio-degradable Hemp in all its’ forms renew the health and wealth for the masses with the Most High’s Blessings!!!!

why so much hate? who cares about this guys personal life as long as he delivers a good product? look at your own lives first!!!! as for the product, i use it on my temples every time i get a headache. give it 10 min and its totally gone!!! so u decided for yourselves to use it or not. but to all you ppl out there that r so focused on when sticky puts on teffillin, you should SMOKE a little then read garden of emuna and hopefully the antisemitism u have in your hearts will change and moshiach can finally come!!!!!!!

sarah leah says:

BS”D Have rarely seen such mis- and dis-information put out there to create a totally false impression about (1) orthodox Jews (2) baalei tshuva (secular who embrace Orthodoxy? oy!)

Am still pondering how this got into the “religion” section of this laughable “periodical”…i’ll let u know when we figure it out.

Now, let me guess…you also support JStreet and think “Women at the Wall”, and anyone who knows a Jew qualifies as one…right?

Laurel says:

Ha ha Sarah Leah, and may I add to your last listing: Shiksas who sleep w/Jewish guys think they’re “Jewish by Injection”!!!

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Jason Whittington says:

Kaneh bos’m is, indeed, in the holy anointing oil. The Talmud refers to hemp as ‘kaneh’, and in 1980, the Hebrew University confirmed that kaneh bos’m, found in Exodus 30, is, indeed, cannabis.

William Stryker says:

Is this place a scam? I paid for an order but so far no responses or no call backs. I’m worried this place is a scam.

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Contact High

In Berkeley, three Orthodox Jews run a medical-marijuana collective selling a religiously inspired cannabis cream

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