How do we want our children to remember us 20 years from now?
No doubt we’d like them to remember our home as one of warmth, kindness, and hospitality, where the welcome mat was always out, and guests were a regular part of our lives. We’d also like them to remember clearly that their safety and health were paramount to us, and that we were vigilant and uncompromising in identifying and protecting them from the dangers of a changing world.
We are standing at an inflection point that will determine whether our children will be able to look back and say that their safety truly mattered to us.
A smoke store is set to open on Main Street, featuring both tobacco and marijuana products. Is this store legal? Yes. Is it right? A resounding NO! Not all that is legal is wise nor is legality a measure of what is halachically or hashkafically advisable.
Even were the establishment “only” selling tobacco products, it would still run counter to all that we educate towards and all that we believe concerning the preciousness of life. My shul just honored Jim Gennaro, a politician whose claim to fame is having successfully sponsored a bill that raises the legal smoking age, thereby protecting countless lives. Ever since the Surgeon General’s report of 1964, we have been making slow but steady progress towards educating Americans about the dangers of smoking. Warnings are required on cigarette packages; cigarette ads are prohibited in print and other media.
Old folks like me remember when all this was not so. For my eighth-grade project on smoking, I had no trouble at all making a “Smoker’s Page” collage from newspaper and magazine ads. It was much tougher finding symbols for a “Non-Smoker’s Page.” I had to take images of cigarettes and put an X through them. Compared to the Marlboro Man, that was tame indeed. Thank G-d for how far we have come in making smoking less attractive and less accessible. Do we want to take a huge step backwards in our community?
The halachic picture has mirrored the medical one. As poskim have watched medical authorities categorically decry smoking, they too have hardened their positions. The vast majority of contemporary decisors forbid smoking, and no posek would advise anyone to begin smoking. For an excellent summary of Rabbinic opinions and their development, Google “Smoking and Halacha Rabbi Yehuda Spitz.”
The added presence of marijuana products in the proposed establishment only exacerbates the problem. While reputable poskim permit the use of medicinal marijuana when prescribed by a doctor to relieve the pain of the seriously ill, self-medication and recreational use are much more problematic, both medically and halachically. The dangers to one’s body and personality and the potential for driving while impaired are two issues that are hard to measure and may differ from user to user. Nevertheless, medical professionals will tell you that marijuana is known to cause severe psychiatric and physical problems. Moreover, it is a gateway drug, which makes it likely that purveyors of more toxic products will be drawn to our area.
I will leave it to poskim and doctors to rule on this, but I have yet to meet any who are permissive.
What are we to do?
- We must speak with our children and explain clearly the dangers of tobacco, marijuana, and vaping.
- We must make our politicians and community leaders aware that for us, this is a red line. We must make it unambiguously clear that we will not accept such a store. We know and appreciate that some of them are already working on the issue behind the scenes, but this will give them the leverage to say, “We are feeling the heat. The community is up in arms about this.”
- We must not fall prey to glib excuses: They’ll just get it somewhere else; product purchased on the street is more likely to be dangerous; nearby stores will benefit economically; why don’t you regulate liquor stores? Even if they were true, a premise I do not necessarily grant, these factors are far outweighed by the considerations outlined above.
- We must explore what our legal options are if the shop indeed opens.
We must make it clear to ourselves and our children that Jews who know how to put out the welcome mat for all those in need, also know how to pull it in where our children’s safety is concerned.
Moshe Rosenberg is a community rav, educator, and bestselling author.