The legalization of marijuana and the Jewish community

Sep 16, 2017 By Matthew Friedberg
Marijuana legalization needs limitations on how people access it — not unlike alcohol and tobacco in Canada, Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg tells The Canadian Jewish News.

“For most, it is certainly beyond dispute that marijuana is a far less harmful drug than alcohol. Still, while it has medical benefits in some circumstances, when used recreationally — especially if abused — it can have harmful health consequences,” he says.

Friedberg, a partner with Caramanna Friedberg LLP, joined Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner and Dr. Barry Pakes, program director of the public health and preventive medicine program at the University of Toronto, for an interview with the publication about the potential impact of legalizing marijuana in July 2018.

Friedberg says an additional goal of legalization should be to reduce the monopoly organized crime currently has on the marijuana trade.

He says there are strong reasons to believe that legalization will reduce harm.

“Whether it be harm reduction from a public-health perspective, deterring organized crime, protecting youth or relieving the overburdened criminal justice system — all of these provide strong evidence against the misguided and failed anti-marijuana policy that Canada currently has,” he says.

“As a criminal defence lawyer and civil libertarian, it always struck me as irrational that our country tried to make criminals out of people who were seeking instant gratification and not hurting others. Human beings are, by nature, pleasure-seeking creatures. A government can’t legislate away our DNA.”

One important question is whether legalization will lead those who already use marijuana to consume more of it, and whether more people will try it as result of it being legal, Friedberg says.

“If there is an increase in usage, the Jewish community is well prepared to deal with the issue —largely because, over the last 20 years, our community has come to accept that it is just as susceptible to substance abuse as any other,” he says.

“There are now support groups, infrastructure and treatment options for Jews who suffer from all forms of addiction.”

Friedberg says once it is legalized, marijuana use ought to be treated by Jewish institutions the same way they treat alcohol and tobacco use.


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