Union for Reformed Judaism on Medical Marijuana

A resolution on the medical use of marijuana was approved in Nov. 2003 by the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly Union of American Hebrew Congregations). It was proposed by Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills, California. Below are some of the informational material presented to the Union, followed by the resolution.

"Question: Why is the use of medicinal marijuana a Jewish issue?

Answer: Despite the decades-long ban on the use of medicinal marijuana, there is a growing shift in expert and public opinion, seen most clearly in Canada (where its use is now legal), toward greater acceptance of medicinal marijuana and its potential benefits.

As Jews, we are mindful of the teachings of the philosopher-physician Maimonides, who is essence wrote, 'God created drugs and compounds and gave us the intelligence necessary to discover their medicinal properties; we must use them in warding off illness and disease' (Maimonides' commentary on Mishneh P'sachim 4:9). As science and society have progressed, we have continued to learn about the use of marijuana as a method of pain management for patients with serious and terminal illnesses. Medicinal marijuana has the potential to treat the symptoms of glaucoma, reduce nausea, and alleviate pain and suffering, thus providing us with an opportunity to fulfill our Jewish obligation to use all the means and knowledge at our disposal to improve the quality of life for those struggling with illness and disease."

Jewish Texts:
  • "Two central ideas underlie the abiding Jewish commitment to provide health care to all of God's children. The first is Judaism's teaching that an individual human life is of infinite value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations. We are constantly commanded 'not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbors.' The second is the belief that God has endowed us with the understanding and ability to become partners with God in making a better world. The use of that wisdom to cure illnesses has been a central theme in Jewish thought and history.

    Three health care obligations flow from these core values:

    1. First, physicians have an obligation to heal. As Moses Maimonides concluded in his commentary on Mishnah N'darim 4:4: 'It is obligatory from the Torah for the physician to heal the sick, and this is included in the explanation of the phrase: 'and you shall restore it to him,' meaning to heal the body.'

    2. Second, patients have an obligation to obtain health care. Our bodies and souls belong to God, and we have to ensure that they are cared for. The verse in Deuteronomy (4:15) 'You shall indeed guard your souls' has traditionally been interpreted as commanding us to protect our health.

    3. Third, providing health care was not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor, but for the society as well. It is for this reason that health care is listed first by Maimonides on his list of the ten most important communal services that had to be offered by a city to its residents. (Mishnah Torah, Sefer Hamadda IV:23)."

  • "God created drugs and compounds and gave us the intelligence necessary to discover their medicinal properties; we must use them in warding off illness and disease (Maimonides' Commentary on Mishneh P'sachim 4:9)."

  • "God created medicines out of earth, and let no man of understanding reject them! (Ben Sira 35:4)."

  • "Someone who is dangerously ill and asks to eat on Yom Kippur, even if the expert doctors say that it is not necessary to eat, should be fed, according to the patient's own word, to the point that [the sick person] says enough. If the sick person says I don't need to eat and the doctors says it is necessary, feed the person, according to the doctor's word, assuming the doctor is an expert. If one doctor says it is necessary to feed the patient and one doctor says it is not necessary to feed the patient, or if some say it is necessary and some it is unnecessary, go with the majority or the experts, so long as we are dealing with a case in which the patient says s/he does not need to eat. But if s/he had said that s/he needs to eat, feed her/him. If the patient has not said that s/he needs to eat and the doctors are divided and all of them are experts, and the number of doctors who say it is necessary is equal to those who say it is not necessary, then feed the patient (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, 'Laws of Cessation from Work on the Tenth of Tishrei' 2:8)."

  • "The laws of Shabbat can be violated when a person's life is endangered, just like all of the mitzvot. Therefore, if a person is dangerously ill, you should do whatever s/he needs on Shabbat, according to the word of a physician of that locale. If there is a doubt as to whether or not one needs to desecrate Shabbat or not, or if one doctor says it is necessary to desecrate Shabbat and another says it is not necessary to desecrate Shabbat, one should violate the laws of Shabbat in cases of doubt for the sake of life. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, 'Laws Concerning Shabbat' 2:1)."

Resolution on the Medicinal Use of Marijuana

Submitted by Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, CA,
to the 67th UAHC General Assembly


According to our tradition, a physician is obliged to heal the sick (Maimonides commentary on Mishnah Nedarim 4:4). The use of marijuana as a medicine goes back at least 5,000 years. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, U.S. law currently defines marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- a prohibited substance -- having no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, a high potential for abuse, and a lack of evidence of safety for use under medical supervision. In contrast, Schedule II drugs have restricted access as highly controlled medications that are prescribed in writing in triplicate using the physician's assigned number. Moreover, Schedule II medications are for use in pain management for a limited period of time in limited quantity.

Anecdotally based reports on the medical use of marijuana have indicated that it provides relief from symptoms, conditions and treatment side effects of several serious illnesses. These include glaucoma, the wasting syndrome associated with HIV/AIDS, nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, and muscle spasms that often accompany multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Thus far, scientific studies regarding the efficacy and safety of marijuana use for therapeutic purposes have been inconclusive.

In recent years the development and implementation of pain management have changed. In the United States, more than 30 states have approved legislation in support of the medicinal use of marijuana. U.S. federal law supercedes state law, however, and prevents the implementation of these states' mandates. Because marijuana is not legally available in the U.S., except for research purposes pursuant to limited Investigational New Drug applications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, many patients cannot avail themselves of this therapy and must resort to the black market to obtain relief and are thus subject to arrest or incarceration. At this time, Health Canada, the Canadian federal department of health, permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A court case is pending to determine the method by which patients will obtain the marijuana.

In Jan. 1997, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked the Institute of Medicine to assess the potential health benefits and risks of marijuana and its cannabinoid compounds (the primary psychoactive ingredients). The Institute of Medicine's report, released in March 1999, recommends continued research into physiological effects of marijuana's constituent cannabinoids and their potential therapeutic value for pain relief, including closely monitored clinical trials of smoked marijuana. The Institute of Medicine's report also recommends short term use (less than 6 months) of marijuana for patients with debilitating symptoms for whom all approved medications have failed and relief of symptoms could not be reasonably expected, with treatment administered under medical supervision and the guidance of an institutional review board.

THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Urge elected officials in the United States to support federal legislation and regulation to allow the medicinal use of marijuana for patients with intractable pain and other conditions, under medical supervision;

  2. Urge the Food and Drug Administration to expand the scope of allowable Investigational New Drug applications in order to move research forward more quickly toward an approved product;

  3. Call for further medical research on marijuana and its constituent compounds with the goal of developing reliable and safe cannabinoid drugs for management of debiliting conditions; and

  4. Call upon congregations to advocate for the necessary changes in local, state and federal law to permit the medicinal use of marijuana and ensure its accessibility for that purpose."