NEW YORK — Back in 1971, the father of the American “War on Drugs” drew a connection between Jews and cannabis.
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“You know it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish,” president Richard Nixon said. “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”
Most Jews are not psychiatrists, of course, just as most marijuana law reform activists are not Jewish. Nixon, however, wasn’t alone in calling Jews out for their involvement in cannabis policy.
An anti-Semitic article published by alt-right website The Daily Stormer in late November entitled “Weed Kikes Attacking Jeff Sessions!” denigrates a number of Jewish activists by name for opposing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General, a position that directs federal drug law enforcement.
“The Jews come at you from every angle. Here they are coming at you from the weed lmao [sic] angle,” the article says. “The marijuana legalization agenda is entirely Jew.”
The Daily Stormer, recently ranked the US’s top hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), took its name from Der Stürmer, a Nazi newspaper started by Julius Streicher, who was later hanged for war crimes at Nuremberg. SPLC calls the website a “malignant presence in the real world.”
The Daily Stormer article, one of many displays of anti-Semitism that seem to be gaining traction in America, doesn’t merely attack Jews for being Jewish: The pretense of this article is that association with Jews is inherently a smear against the drug reform movement.
It sets a dangerous precedent, though its argument itself isn’t very strong. The story names a prominent Jewish cannabis activist, Adam Eidinger from Washington, DC, who led protests against Sessions’ nomination, and later goes on to describe a cannabis-themed seder that took place in Portland, Oregon last year.
Perhaps the article’s strongest — or most accurate — point is acknowledging “a Jew group that considers legalizing drugs as part of the Jew agenda of ‘Tikkun olam’ (fixing the world).”
There are indeed many Jewish cannabis activists (and many Jewish psychiatrists). Including those interviewed for this article, many of these activists propose that drug policy reform really does align with Jewish values like tikkun olam and standing up against oppression.
The alt-right may be using anti-Semitism to discredit marijuana law reform and clearly the “marijuana legalization agenda” is not “entirely Jew,” as the article states, but Jewish morality does play a role for some of the Jewish activists who are motivated by social justice.
Sessions: KKK ok — until smoking pot
Sessions, who was recently confirmed as US attorney general, has been hostile toward cannabis and thinks marijuana law reform is a “tragic mistake.” He has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” According to 1986 Senate committee testimony, the former Alabama senator once said he thought the Ku Klux Klan were okay until learning that they smoked pot.
Sessions has also criticized former president Barack Obama’s administration for not enforcing federal prohibition in the now 28 states that legalized medical or recreational marijuana.
With Sessions’ confirmation, drug policy reformers are worried he will undermine America’s fast-growing cannabis industry and progressive trend toward more lenient state policies.
‘Anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism’
“To throw anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish people for being drug policy reformers is an attempt to delegitimize drug policy reform through anti-Semitism,” says Eidinger, founder of DCMJ.org, which helped legalize cannabis in the city of Washington, DC. The Daily Stormer article features a photo of Eidinger holding a bong.
“It gets scary when the most die-hard Trump partisans, who happen to be neo-Nazis, are coming after you,” Eidinger says.
Jewish Manhattan Assembly member Richard Gottfried, who originally proposed New York State’s medical marijuana program, says tikkun olam inspired him to advocate for reform. He now fears medical marijuana patients will suffer if Sessions attacks state policies.
‘I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja’
“My views on marijuana and all public issues have been strongly influenced by my upbringing, which included Jewish values focusing on justice and personal responsibility for promoting a better world for all,” says Gottfried. “Of course, Judaism is not alone in upholding the value of healing the world.”
When, for example, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot, despite comparable rates of use with the rest of the US, marijuana law reform often falls under the greater social justice umbrella.
“I think it’s interesting that many of us who work in drug policy reform are Jewish, and I have definitely noticed in my unscientific sampling that Jews tend to enjoy their ganja,” says Natalie Ginsberg, policy and advocacy manager at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Jews who are impacted by generations of trauma or who suffer from anxiety may gravitate towards cannabis as medicine, Ginsberg says.
“Also, personally, both cannabis and Judaism have empowered me to question things and see the greater context, so I can see why neo-Nazis would feel especially threatened by the combination,” says Ginsberg.
Jews as ultimate scapegoats
In a political atmosphere that marginalizes Muslims, Mexicans, and other minorities, “Jews are acutely sensitive to being scapegoated, and drugs are a scapegoat for all sorts of problems,” says Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS.
“When you have a whole cultural system built on throwing people in jail for drug use that in many cases is not harmful, but beneficial, you have a massive scapegoating problem going on,” says Dobin.
Roy Kaufman, co-host of a cannabis seder in Portland, Oregon, and mentioned in the Daily Stormer article, finds common ground between Jewish tradition and drug policy. The Passover story is one of bondage to freedom, he says, just as ending prohibition takes people out of bondage and into personal freedom, to choose what’s best for their health.
Meanwhile, Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a nonprofit advocating for reform, draws a connection between prohibition and Nazi Germany, where his grandfather had perished.
“Any time the majority thinks that it needs to impose its particular morality on the minority, not just for our sake but their sake, that’s trouble,” Nadelmann says in an interview.
While many American Jews are not as directly impacted by the War on Drugs as people of color, many nonetheless feel a responsibility to act on behalf of those who are, says Amanda Reiman, DPA’s former marijuana law and policy manager.
“What we need is a proliferation of people who are willing to fight and defend the rights of people, even if they’re not directly affected by [the War on Drugs], and that’s what’s under attack in that article,” she says. “The reason we’re involved in drug policy is because of tikkun olam.”