It's a celebrated variety of cannabis with a distinctly Hebraic backstory, but rabbis from two Canadian kosher certification agencies say the name "Kosher Kush" could be disappointing or misleading for people who observe Judaism's ancient dietary laws.
Kosher Kush is a type of dried cannabis bud, sold by Canopy Growth Corporation in Canada's recreational cannabis market. The cultivar was developed by DNA Genetics, a renowned seed breeder whose website describes Kosher Kush as "a stinky over-the-top strain with an average yield, making all who smoke it feel 'blessed.'"
"The word 'kosher,' it shouldn't be a marketing word," said Rabbi Tsvi Heber, director of community kosher with the Toronto-based Kashruth Council of Canada, which describes itself as Canada's largest kosher-certifying body.
Instead, Heber said "kosher" should only be applied to food products that have been deemed compliant with the dietary edicts of Jewish religious law.
"I'm speaking as a rabbi, but also as a kosher consumer. A kosher consumer doesn't want to see the word 'kosher' associated with something that's basically some marketing upshot... Just to use that name to try to promote a product is disappointing."
Rabbi Mendy Feigelstock, director of kashrut and operations with Vancouver-based kosher-certifier Kosher Check, has heard complaints from his local community about a Vancouver cannabis dispensary called Kosher Leaf Society. Feigelstock said he's heard about Kosher Kush before, and considers the name "misleading for the consumer."
"It would be, I guess, a lot worse if it was a food product that wasn't kosher. That would be extremely misleading, but I think it's still misleading to claim a product is kosher if it's not kosher-certified. I don't think they have any basis to do that."Advertisement
The company behind the product says it meant no offence.
"This is really just an example of a quirky story that turned into a quirky strain name," said Adam Greenblatt, a business development lead with Canopy Growth Corp. "We're certainly not trying to mislead people about whether or not it is a kosher product.
"I see it as an acceptable colloquial use of the term."
The tale behind Kosher Kush, as told to Greenblatt by DNA Genetics founders Don Morris and Aaron Yarkoni, goes something like this: sometime in the 2000s, Morris was hosting a house party. He'd picked up a tray of cannabis seedlings earlier in the day, and during the party he left the plants under a light in his bathroom. Later on, a freshly minted rabbi showed up.
"And she was also very much into cannabis, she loved cannabis. And being that she was newly ordained, she saw these cannabis plants and she was excited to bless them," said Greenblatt.
Those supposedly sanctified seedlings were later used to make seeds, which DNA called Kosher Kush. ("Kush" is a common cannabis descriptor, and refers to the Hindu Kush mountain range in Asia where cannabis grows wild.)
"It's not really a promotional tactic in my mind," Greenblatt said. "(DNA Genetics) didn't just do market research and determine that if they call it Kosher Kush it's going to take off."
Some cannabis products have been certified kosher in Canada before: in 2017, Quebec-based cannabis producer Hydropothecary (now called Hexo) received media attention when its medical cannabis products were certified kosher by certification agency Ottawa Vaad HaKashrut.
The issue of kosher cannabis products could come back to the fore with the pending legalization of commercially manufactured cannabis edibles at the end of 2019.
Feigelstock said his agency would consider kosher certification for edible cannabis products meant for medical purposes, but not for recreational use. On the other hand, the Kashruth Council of Canada has already declined to certify medical cannabis products as kosher, partly out of concern such an endorsement could validate the recreational use of cannabis and partly because the group doesn't think medications need to be kosher-certified.
(Heber believes the recreational use of inhaled cannabis smoke or vapour wouldn't violate Jewish dietary laws, but it could go against other aspects of Jewish religious jurisprudence.)
Meanwhile, Greenblatt said Canopy Growth has no plans to change the product's name, and noted a few other licensed Canadian cannabis producers have also sold Kosher Kush. (Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp.'s website claims the cultivar "originates from Californian orthodox Jewish growers.")
"I'm a politically correct person, I was raised Jewish, my summer camp was very strictly kosher," Greenblatt said. "And so I always knew that at some point someone was going to ask about Kosher Kush as a strain name."