Marijuana should be legal for medical use, rabbis say

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A state petition to legalize marijuana for medical use has won support from an unlikely source — the East Bay Council of Rabbis.

The rabbis unanimously endorsed an initiative by the Californians for Compassionate Use, which would allow patients or their caretakers to own or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment with a doctor's prescription.

The initiative does not condone using marijuana for any other purposes, however.

"Basically we felt like there are people with serious term illnesses who, because of state law, can't get medicine helpful to them. That seems pretty intolerable," said Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman, president of the rabbincal council, a union of 25 East Bay rabbis.

The vote came after little discussion, said Finkelman. "It was unanimous. It's hard to sustain discussion when people are agreeing with each other," he added.

"I don't see this one as very controversial at all," agreed Rabbi Roberto Graetz, of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, who voted for the board's marijuana message.

"This measure was basically approved by the state legislature and (Gov. Pete) Wilson vetoed it both times," Graetz said. "Sacramento didn't think it was controversial, except the governor" did.

According to Ed Rosenthal, one of the coordinators at the Alameda County office of the Californians for Compassionate Use, marijuana provides symptomatic relief from glaucoma, migraine headaches, the side effects of chemotherapy, and all auto-immune diseases including muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and AIDS.

It could also be used in the treatment of late-term abortions, anorexia and other ailments, he said.

Rosenthal told of an 80th birthday party for a friend of his mother. Of the eight people at the party, every single one of them could have benefited from marijuana: They suffered from sleeping problems, loss of appetite and spasmatic tics, among other problems.

"Everyone there could have had a pot party and they would have felt better for it," Rosenthal said.

In fact, marijuana would be legalized purely for such ailments under the petition. The initiative would not condone recreational use.

"We like to keep the emphasis on medical marijuana," said Rana Koll, another coordinator at the Alameda office of Californians for Compassionate Use. "It cuts across political lines."

"I wouldn't back legalization of drugs in general," Graetz emphasized.

According to Koll, the initiative also has the endorsement of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Secular Humanists of the East Bay, a major Unitarian church in Oakland, two labor unions and groups involved with multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

Rosenthal presented the petition to the rabbinic council uncertain how much they knew about the issue, he said, or whether they would lend him any support.

But when he arrived, the only issues under discussion seemed to be how the rabbis could help, he said. Rosenthal added that he expects to work with the rabbis' congregations shortly to gather petition signatures from members.

"Both Ed (Rosenthal) and I are Jewish, so we're particularly pleased to get support of the Jewish community," Koll said.

The initiative requires 600,000 signatures by April 12 in order to qualify for the state ballot. According to Koll, Alameda county must supply 25,000 of these signatures. Statewide, the initiative has 15,000 signatures so far, she said.

Californians for Compassionate Use may be reached at (510) 417-1482.