By Bill Parry
When the borough’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens near the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst in the coming weeks, it will be the first in the world certified as kosher by the Orthodox Union.
Vireo Health of New York, formerly known as Empire State Health Solutions, which will operate the facility at 89-55 Queens Blvd., announced that all of the company’s products will carry the trademarked ‘OU’ symbol for the first time ever on medical cannabis products, including the company’s vaporization cartridges, oils and capsules.
“Being certified kosher by the OU will not only help us serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States, but also combat unfortunate stigmas associated with medical cannabis,” Vireo Health of New York CEO Ari Hoffnung said. “This announcement sends an important message to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds that using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering does not in any way represent an embrace of ‘pot’ culture. Patients should never feel guilty or ashamed for using a product recommended by their physicians.”
Prior to awarding Vireo Health kosher certification, OU Kosher leadership held extensive conversations with the company’s senior management. OU Kosher’s rabbinic field representatives then visited Vireo’s medical cannabis cultivation and lab facilities in upstate Fulton County, for inspection and verification, to assure that all OU Kosher standards and policies were in place.
“We are pleased to grant kosher certification to Vireo Health of New York’s medical cannabis products, which were developed to alleviate pain and suffering in accordance with the New York State Compassionate Care Act,” OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack said. “Judaism prioritizes health and encourages the use of medicine designed to improve one’s health or reduce pain. Using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as a chet, a sinful act, but rather as a mitzvah, an imperative, a commandment.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act into law in July 2014, allowing patients to use medical cannabis if they have been diagnosed with a specific severe, debilitating or life-threatening condition such as cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease or any other condition added by the commissioner of the state Department of Health. Patients who are certified by their practitioners must apply to the DOH to obtain a registry identification card in order to obtain medical cannabis.
“We are thrilled to be the first medical cannabis company in the world to join companies like Novartis and Pfizer that chose the OU for their kosher certification,” Vireo Health CEO Dr. Kyle Kingsley said. “Vireo and the OU both share a deep commitment to rigorous quality standards, and we look forward to broadening our relationship as we expand our operations into other states.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr