When founder Darron Silva says his company is keeping kosher, he really means it.
Since 2018, Cali Kosher has provided cannabis flower, vape cartridges and concentrated extracts to hundreds of retailers across California. The twist? All of their products are certified kosher in adherence with Central California Kosher (CCK), a Fresno-based kashrut supervision organization run by Rabbi Levy Zirkind.
In order to understand what Cali Kosher is all about, it’s important to first define the concept of “kosher” as it applies here.
While some may know the term best as a synonym for acceptable or copacetic, it holds an importance place in Judaism as a set of dietary laws. Some of the rules concern what types of food should never be eaten together, or at all, while others dictate the way in which things must be cultivated or prepared prior to consumption.
Thus, while in slang parlance, we may use “kosher” to confirm the validity of a situation or circumstance, as it relates to Cali Kosher, we’re talking about the real-deal certification also found on everything from almonds to cheese to carrots.
In a profile of the company written for the Jewish Northern Californian publication j., Gabe Stutman details how such a process plays out with regard to kosher cannabis.
“According to Jewish law,” Stutman writes, “medicines — namely, life-saving ones — do not have to be kosher. But elective medicines like vitamins do. Cannabis usually falls into the latter category.”
In an interview with j., Silva explained that he got the idea for a kosher cannabis farm from his brother, who helps run operations for the cannabis distribution company Mission Brands. When Silva’s sibling told him that Mission was seeking kosher certification, he decided to do the same.
In order to certify Cali Kosher’s key crop, Rabbi Zirkind inspects the plants to ensure there are no insects or mites (which are considered “highly unkosher”) before researching “any chemicals that were used during the growing process” to ensure said products aren’t affiliated with unhealthy side effects.
A caveat in Zirkind’s CCK certification explains that, by Jewish law, cannabis is considered solely a medicine, which thus means recreational use is not kosher. Nonetheless, this clarification has not dissuaded people from seeking out the kosher-certified bud. Now two years into their venture, Cali Kosher products are carried by some 300 retail stores across California, with a high concentration of shops located in the Bay Area region.
Additionally, Silva and his team just opened Cali Kosher’s first retail location on Oct. 9. Situated in Patterson (about 15 minutes outside of Modesto), the store speaks to the brand’s continuing success at carving out a niche in a legal market that can often feel saturated with choice.
As Cali Kosher represents for California, they arrive five years behind Vireo Health of New York, which became the first cannabis producer to obtain certification from the Orthodox Union. Described by Stutman as “the standard-bearer for kashrut supervision,” the OU is famed for the kosher seal featuring its initials that can regularly be found on foodstuffs across the globe.
In a press release issued at the time, Viereo’s CEO explained how partnering with OU would assist his company to “serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States.”
In New York’s case, the issue of medical-versus-recreational as it relates to kosher laws remains sadly moot. For as long as the state’s laws permit only medical cannabis, the OU arrangement will not be strained by matters of religious decree. Obviously, as is the case with Cali Kosher, it is also possible for compromises to be reached that satisfy all parties.
Even if getting the OU to certify recreational cannabis remains a bit of a pipe dream, it’s clear the tide of public opinion is at least beginning to turn some in the faith to see things from a fresh perspective.
As Rabbi Zirkind shared with j., he’s even received counsel from an oversees colleague in support of his work.
“You better certify it,” Zirkind recalled being told. “If it’s legal in California, and going to make people’s lives better, especially cancer patients, you have the responsibility to make it kosher and do it right.”