Swapcast Consummation with The Wondering Jews
In this episode, we reciprocate our podcast swap with Portland’s Wondering Jews. In our turn, Alex and Donny quiz the WoJews’ Roy and Josh on how they came to effortlessly blend Talmudic study and cannabis love. Plus: The Man Who Legalized Cannabis.
- Cannabis activism was the impetus for this podcast that focuses on cannabis and Judaism.
- Parenting approaches in the legal weed era are part of the Wondering Jews concerns, with combatting drug contradiction near the top of their list.
- The Torah is a famously dry texts that Roy and Josh engage like two friends talking over a smoke.|
Alex and Donny Join the Wondering Jews’ “What Jew Talkin’ About?”
Alex Halperin’s Cannabis Dictionary
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This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Alex Halperin (00:04):
Welcome to WeedWeek. I’m Alex Halperin.
Donnell Alexander (00:06):
And I’m Donnell Alexander.
Alex Halperin (00:08):
This is the WeedWeek podcast. You can subscribe to our free newsletters: WeedWeek, WeedWeek California and WeedWeek Canada all at weedweek.net, and you can find us on Twitter and Instagram @weedweeknews. Got any feedback? We’d love to hear from you at email@example.com, you can also subscribe or like us on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or your favorite platform.
Donnell Alexander (00:30):
Joining us this week are Josh and Roy of Portland’s Wondering Jews podcast. This is part of a podcast swap we’re doing. It’s our second one. Do you like the podcast swap idea Alex?
Alex Halperin (00:40):
Yeah, this one’s a lot of fun. It’s Passover at a difficult time and I’m not a particularly religious Jew but these guys are pretty cool and it was a lot of fun sort of doing this with them.
Donnell Alexander (00:56):
Well let me say this, as the non-Jew of the quartet, I got to say your lack of Jewish in this kind of shows up there because they’re not just very Jewy, they’re really deep and smart about it. They’re as deep about their Judaism as they are about their cannabis.
Alex Halperin (01:11):
Yeah. I’m not particularly deep about it either. Maybe I’m just not deep.
Donnell Alexander (01:18):
Maybe you’re just not deep and I should explain that their conversation with us, their interview of us will show up on their podcast and it actually should be there right now. If you take a look either at weedweek.net or @wonderingjews. Before we get into their episode though, we’re going to have a little bit of talk about a cannabis pioneer: Dennis Peron.
New Speaker (01:38):
He stood up and he’s put himself at risk. I mean, he was jailed, and he was vilified.
Speaker 2 (01:44):
You can’t overestimate his influence on this movement. I shudder to think where we would be if there had never been a Dennis.
Speaker 3 (01:44):
Dennis Peron will always be remembered as the man who legalized cannabis, period.
Alex Halperin (02:05):
Dennis Peron was a pretty fascinating guy. He died about two years ago, I think, and I met him briefly, although he was quite frail and never really had the chance to interview him.
Donnell Alexander (02:17):
When did you meet him?
Alex Halperin (02:18):
In sort of industry events and in 2016 and 2017 in San Francisco, he tended to be around.
Donnell Alexander (02:27):
I actually had an interaction with him back in the day. So, we were Facebook friends just in terms of the cannabis buyers club in Market Street, in the Castro area. I lived there and I was reporting on it.
Alex Halperin (02:37):
When was this?
Donnell Alexander (02:37):
This was in ‘94. I think Tom Ammiano became a supervisor in San Francisco, but he was a local politician. I was on the City Hall beat and he called me at my desk to tell me that around the corner you could buy weed. And I said, what? And of course, I ran right out there, before I could get off the phone call I was there.
Alex Halperin (02:57):
Yeah, you put the phone down.
Donnell Alexander (02:59):
That’s the day we were in. So I had an awareness of him. And the thing about him is he’s such a towering figure. We have a handful of towering figures in cannabis and I count him, don’t you?
Alex Halperin (03:09):
Oh, absolutely. So he was a gay Vietnam veteran who moved to San Francisco and during the ‘80s when it turned out that, uh, you know, San Francisco was a gay population and they were being devastated by the AIDS crisis. And it was determined that cannabis didn’t cure them, but it relieved their symptoms and gave them solace at this extraordinarily awful time where all these young men were dying.
Donnell Alexander (03:43):
You can’t look past the issue of appetite. So many people were able to regain their appetite from cannabis. And when I was there, I knew that was a really big deal.
Alex Halperin (03:51):
So he went from running this illegal dispensary to becoming a political activist. He’s credited with I think co-writing Proposition 215 which is what California voted on in 1996 to become the first state to legalize medical marijuana. So he sort of came inside and became an activist and we can all feel his legacy between having the courage to run this shop that was helping people and then sort of playing an inside game of getting cannabis legalized when it was against federal law and being the first state to do so. He was an incredibly effective activist, somebody who really changed the world.
Donnell Alexander (04:41):
And that’s one of the reasons that PAX labs has made this video. The piece that we excerpted came out last week dropped on April 8th. In July, there’s a 20-minute video planned for the Roxy theater in San Francisco.
Alex Halperin (04:56):
I’m going to guess that that was originally planned for 4/20.
Donnell Alexander (05:00):
I don’t know that it was planned for 4/20 but that’s a pretty good guess.
Alex Halperin (05:04):
It seems like a reasonable guess.
Donnell Alexander (05:06):
Let’s have some more serious conversation about cannabis, but kind of a serious fun conversation about cannabis with our new friends, the Wondering Jews. Here’s Josh and Roy.
Alex Halperin (05:24):
Roy and Joshua Wondering Jews. Welcome to WeedWeek.
Thank you for having us.
Thank you so much.
Alex Halperin (05:29):
So, who are you guys? Tell us about yourselves. How did you start a weed podcast and why did you call it Wondering Jews and whatever else?
Josh, I’ll sort of jump in and then you jump in after.
Alright, well I’ll kick us off. For me, I’ve been involved for drug policy advocacy and such since about 2010, 2011 and I was running the campaign in 2012, the one that didn’t pass but it got to like 48%, and it was sort of much more grassroots written, a much broader sweeping version of legalization.
Donnell Alexander (06:17):
You’re talking about Oregon legalization, correct?
Oregon legalization. Exactly.
Donnell Alexander (06:21):
That’s where you’re based.
Yeah. I’m in Portland. We’re both up in Portland, Oregon. In the suburbs of Western Portland, Oregon.
Donnell Alexander (06:30):
Are you in Beaverton?
Oh, you know.
Donnell Alexander (06:33):
I lived in Beaverton, man. Well, for about 2 years. I lived over by the Nike complex.
That’s right where the studio is.
Donnell Alexander (06:51):
I can definitely go over there and burn one in Beaverton. That’s my Oregon sequel.
Okay. All right. Well we’re looking forward for that in the future.
Donnell Alexander (07:03):
Okay. But go on please. I didn’t mean to interrupt.
So, I was involved in the Measure 80 campaign, was what it was called in 2012 and it didn’t succeed. But one of the things that was interesting as I got to connect with the folks who were running Amendment 64 in Colorado, the folks who were running 502 up in Washington, basically everybody that was going at that cycle, we all sort of traded ideas and tips and whatever. And one of the things that I covered was even the really well-funded campaign, like 502 in Washington. We’re having a hard time engaging with the faith community, particularly clergy, you know.
Donnell Alexander (07:43):
Did you say with the faith community?
The faith community. Yeah, religious leaders, religious communities, even the ones who were sort of nominally supportive of this legalization or acknowledged the stupidity of the drug war were very hesitant to speak up on the issue. And I mean, that’s where I saw that the strongest stigma was within the religious community. And I am Jewish. I grew up in a very sort of traditional Jewish house and actually I was born in Israel and then I grew up for chunk of my life in South Africa and then in California and Southern California.
Donnell Alexander (08:25):
And so you saw this?
Yeah, I saw this and I also saw that all my Jewish friends smoked weed, all of these people who were doing this really interesting stuff in science were Jews, there was the Jewish summer camp, weed smoke sort of Jewish youth group hangout. Weed crossover was omnipresent. It felt very hypocritical because we were getting to benefit from this, but nobody wanted to talk about the ills of the drug war. And the hypocrisy just nodded at me. And I started to do stuff and get people involved after the legalization campaigns ended. And I started to have conversations and do interviews and host events and start to push back on the stigma within the faith community, which is sort of what led to this podcast and wanting to engage more people and thinking about these issues from a faith perspective or how does this, how do you, how does cannabis shape your engagement with your spirituality? Or how can you use your spirituality to engage in the civil justice work of ending prohibition, ending the drug war. So, ideas like that. And then Josh and I have known each other for years and he was like, I have this stuff. Let’s play with it. And I’m like, all right, let’s start playing.
Donnell Alexander (09:42):
Wait, let’s stop for a second. Can we have Josh talk about the stuff?
Yeah. So, I came, to this because of two things. I, like Roy, grew up in a traditional Jewish household. My mother is actually a rabbi. But I think most people my age who I know who grew up in the traditional Jewish community that I grew up in, they’re no longer connected to Jewish institutions today. This was in Los Angeles. Young Jews I’ve found are not connected to these Jewish institutions like synagogues, etc. So I was trying to think of a way to sort of connect, finding a way to find my faith, especially once I had children. And then the other thing that was happening for me is once I moved to Oregon and all my stoner camp friends that Roy talked about, were back in Los Angeles. I had a real hard time developing male friendships. And so, what I discovered is that there is a real connection between smoking with your friends and sort of building that community. And so, what I really hope that we do at Wondering Jews is a conversation that you’re listening to of your 2 buddies just getting blazed together. And if you learn something about Judaism, that’s awesome.
Donnell Alexander (11:00):
Well, you really do seem very much like 2 very well-educated cannabis, smart buddies talking about stuff. I gotta say just as someone with three kids, I enjoyed that you are dads, is that a part of the mix for you guys?
Yeah, I think a lot of what we talk about has to do about how to sort of engage our children, knowing that our parents made a conscious choice to raise their children in Jewish households and then sort of having to deal with that ourselves. And it’s a constant struggle.
Yeah, absolutely. And for me, 100%. We record the episodes at 8:30 PM, so that’s after Josh can help put his kids to bed. We are people who have full time jobs and raise kids, but this is a huge part of us being able to connect with the community and help foster and build a community. But the parenting stuff is there. There’s every aspect of your life, if you have kids, it fits into everything, right? I mean, Don you have three kids? You know how this is.
Donnell Alexander (12:07):
Yes, I texted my kid in the middle of this conversation. Can I tell you I don’t want to beat the kid thing to death.
Dude, don’t beat your kids to death.
Donnell Alexander (12:21):
I want to beat my kids to death. But no, seriously, I wonder your thoughts because I do think you’re pretty esteemed thinkers about the stuff. How do you see the parenting relationship changing in the new legal weed era?
That’s a great question.
Donnell Alexander (12:39):
I never had the right person to ask it, so I’m giving you guys a shot.
Yeah, I think there’s so many facets to that question. Part of why I supported legalization had to do with the fact that I am parent, if the party line is these substances do these things, which we know to be false, but we’re going to punish you as if it’s true. And I’m at the same time trying to teach my kids to be critical thinkers in a world where they are literally being inundated with lies. I cannot be contributing to lying to them about shit. I have a very honest relationship with them about this plant and the fact that it is for adults and that it has effects on your brain chemistry and there are reasons why you will wait, but to understand that there’s safe and healthy ways to engage with it and still be a model person who works in and does all kinds of productive things in life. It’s part of their still grow narrative growing up. It’s a thousand million billion percent different than how I grew up, which is completely unaware of it until I was introduced in high school to it. So, it was a very different experience. Josh has kids littler, so he’s probably hasn’t had as many conversations with them.
I haven’t even spoke to my kids.
Donnell Alexander (14:05):
What are your thoughts about how you’re going to deal with them?
I hope to deal with them like Roy. I think Roy has done a great job. Roy created a cannabis Seder. He’s been open about it and sort of seeing that has sort of shaped the way I want to introduce my kids to cannabis and to sort of not having that stigma.
Donnell Alexander (14:28):
Can you talk a little bit about the cannabis Seder?
Oh, I would be happy to. So, this was actually one of the first things we did. My ex and I started an organization to engage with the Jewish community about issues around the drug war and any prohibition. One of the first ideas we came up with, this was back in 2014 so the first data was in 2015, was to take the concept of the freedoms later from the 1960s sort of tied to the freedom movement and the freedom writers, the civil rights movement, and then adapt it by the Refusenik movements of the Jews of the ‘70s, trying to get the Jews out of the Soviet Union. The story of going from bondage to freedom is a universal story and it’s an extremely powerful one. And I said, okay, let’s just take that in and apply it to the drug war and see how moving from prohibition to legalization is a movement from bondage to freedom. Then, sort of incorporate elements, Michelle Alexander has worked from the new Jim Crow and incorporate scripture and all kinds of stuff and then also incorporate cannabis into the Seder itself so that every time you drink a glass of wine, for example, you can have a toke of cannabis or you can have a bowl or you can have whatever and it can be part of your ritual experience as well as your philosophical experience of it.
I was a guest at the first Seder and I would say it worked brilliantly, except the only problem was that Alex, you’ve probably been to a Seder where, after the meal you go back and people take turns doing readings. And the second half of that Seder, our people were so blazed that I don’t think anyone could get through any of the readings.
I dramatically underestimated how high people were going to be.
Donnell Alexander (16:22):
You need to make some tweaks on the cannabis Seder, but you want to explore this idea.
Yeah. So we did it in 2015 in Portland. Then we did it again in I think 2016 and 2017 and then 2018 and I think last year we didn’t do one, but the year before we did one in LA at a private house up in the Hills and it was fantastic. I don’t think it’s going to happen this year with all of the madness, but next year, assuming we’re all post virus, I look forward to being able to do one again.
Next year at the same table.
Donnell Alexander (17:05):
I feel like I missed that joke.
That’s how the Seder ends by saying that phrase next year in Jerusalem. And so that’s why it was funny.
Donnell Alexander (17:14):
Okay. I’ve been to a Seder, but I don’t remember how it ended.
That’s how it is at all the good Seders.
Alex Halperin (17:19):
I have a question. So, I don’t really think of myself as a spiritual person or that is not really a word I use. And certainly, I come from a background where we did a fair amount of Jewish stuff, but it was not part of my parents life at all. My father is no longer with us, but my mother is, and I don’t think she’s ever tried cannabis, except she said she once tried it accidentally in a brownie, at a party in the ‘60s and it gave her a terrible headache and she never did it again. But can you tell me a little bit about where you see maybe the connection between cannabis and Jewish mysticism, and is there anything beyond the sort of obvious woo woo about it?
Well, so we had a conversation with my mother, who’s a rabbi, and we were talking to her about cannabis. And something that she said to me that I thought was so interesting is how on Yom Kippur you’re supposed to fast. And so if you could imagine fasting for a day, not having any food in your body, and then during those closing prayers, the really religious folks do a series of bowing movements. And if you have fasted for 24 hours and you do the series of bowing movements, it will get you high, so that there is altered states is pervasive. I know about Judaism, but I’m sure it’s pervasive in other faiths as well. On our podcast we look at the Torah portion of the week and this is the first time I’ve ever read the Torah. And that is a dry book for 5 bucks, I guess. And you need to sort of look at it in different ways because if you’re just reading it as a text, it is pretty boring and not a lot there. But if you look at the mysticism and you try to look at the text at different angles, I think there’s a lot to uncover and unpack.
Donnell Alexander (19:23):
I’m going to do that right after this podcast. Seriously though I have smoked a lot of weed. We made that clear, but I’ve smoked a lot of weed with Jews and until I started having these conversations, I thought that it was kind of cool amongst your people.
I never felt like it was not cool and I smoked with all my brothers and I think there was sort of a hidden or poorly hidden secret with my parents whenever we would get together for cannabis, nonspecifically cannabis Seders but Passover or any other Jewish holiday or any holiday for that matter, the roots were there the whole time. But no, there’s no doubt that it is maybe not quite as stigmatized within the Jewish community, which is why I felt the hypocrisy of it all the more extreme when I started getting involved in the conversations within the community. Because I was like, there’s a level of privilege involved because you don’t think you’re going to get in trouble or because your family can have lawyers or there’s just a level of privilege because you can just be driving around and your friends are smoking and you’re not at risk of anything because you’re passing for white people driving around in nice cars their parents got them. And at the same time, not speaking up and calling out stupid things for what they are.
Donnell Alexander (20:46):
Do you have a specific point that you’re trying to make with the podcast? I feel like you really enjoy the stuff as much as the spirituality components and the social justice angles. You really like pot.
That is true. As Roy mentioned, we’re smoking at 8:30 at night after I put my kids to bed. And so, this is definitely the most fun we have every week and we are learning something and it’s new information. When we prepare for a podcast, I don’t look at any additional text. I only am looking at what the Torah portion is that week or the commandment that we are analyzing. And so, I’m really trying to look at it fresh. I think that Roy does a little bit more background research, so I think that sort of gives us different flavors and more to explore.
I would second what he has to say that yes, we’re both big fans of cannabis. I mean, we both have had a long and productive relationship with the plant. And also, it’s really fun to engage with this material in a way that’s not as serious or controlled or prescribed. It’s just a very different way to get to be high and also to get to study this traditional material.
Alex Halperin (22:06):
Can you give us an example of a text where you sort of took it on and maybe it’s something familiar or maybe it’s something very dry in the Torah, but you really were able to, with the help of a joint, really get to the heart of it in a way that you don’t think you would have been able to otherwise? Or just found something that you don’t think you would have otherwise discovered?
Roy go for it. I have nothing.
Donnell Alexander (22:35):
Why? Why do you have nothing? That seems weird to me.
Well, to be perfectly honest with you, I’d feel like I’m exploring all of this for the first time now. And so it’s all new to me, because I think like you Alex, I sort of tuned out when I was going to temple as a kid, I know the stories, have songs about them, but I really don’t know much else. And so a lot of it has been new to me.
There is a lot of stuff here that’s familiar to me, but it’s like, who was it? Aristotle? Somebody said, “The more I know the more I know the less I know.” The more I learn about this stuff, the deeper I go, the more I realize I don’t know anything about it because I thought we were taught at such superficial levels or such basic narratives of the story because maybe that’s what we were ready for at the time.
Hebrew school is such a joke in this country.
Donnell Alexander (23:30):
You can fight that.
I wouldn’t fight that. As a parent I have that very frustration because I would love to be able to teach my kids more, but that requires me to create a level of structure with the material and with them that is going to be hard. But I try to keep the practices alive and have these conversations. But my hope is that I’m planting some seed of interest that when they’re my age they might realize they want to wrestle with this stuff more.
Donnell Alexander (24:01):
Hey, who are your listeners? Who do you think for your audiences? Can you tell?
Oh, our listeners are mostly I’d say in Portland. And I think our Jews, I mean I think they are basically the folks that I want to be friends with, or at least that’s who I hope the listeners are.
That’s a nice way of thinking about them.
Donnell Alexander (24:23):
Do you have further goals for the podcast beyond the local familiar, if you will?
Oh yeah. I got a vision board, man.
Donnell Alexander (24:30):
Okay. What’s on it?
Well, I would love to do a live show.
Donnell Alexander (24:36):
With an audience. I think that would be really fun to do. And some guests.
Donnell Alexander (24:41):
I’m just asking this out of pure innocence, are there enough people in your group to fill the hall?
Well, you know, you can find small rooms.
Donnell Alexander (24:52):
We’ve talked to some folks down in LA who they’re sort of creating similar kinds of community down there, but around the industry. So, it would be the kind of thing where I could see us partnering with some group that was also bringing some level of their audience for sort of a crossover appeal.
Donnell Alexander (25:11):
I enjoy your podcast. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, not Jewish, but I really enjoy the podcast and I would turn out for a night.
Well, then I’m right because you’re someone I want to be friends with.
Donnell Alexander (25:21):
Alright then, mission accomplished. Let’s just all go home, stop making podcasts, wrap this shit up. But no, I think we’re nearing the end of our time with you. Is there anything you want us to know aside from that you want to be friends?
I mean that’s a pretty big takeaway for me. I’m pretty happy about that.
Donnell Alexander (25:40):
Well, then mission accomplished.
Because I mean I love what you guys are doing covering the industry, especially the fact that you’re covering it in Canada and in the US and then sort of state by state level stuff and it’s just really smart material. And I’m stoked to be able to bring different kinds of smarts to the table because there’s just so much cool stuff to be processing right now.
Donnell Alexander (26:04):
Thanks. That’s very, very flattering.
Oh wait, I have to say before we go, I feel like I’ve shortchanged Alex on the Jewish stuff. This is an opportunity to express yourself. I know you’re not the best Jew in the world.
Alex Halperin (26:14):
I won’t argue that my Judaism is in the breach rather than in the observance. And that makes me a very good Jew indeed. But, yeah, this was a lot of fun. You know, not to impose, but if you’re doing a virtual Seder this year, it sounds like a lot more fun than mine.
Yeah. I will say that we do jello shots at our Seder. We definitely toke up beforehand. You’re supposed to relax, it’s a holiday. Seder is a perfect time to get baked.
Alex Halperin (26:47):
I have also heard that Yom Kippur is just full of people dropping acid.
I think every weekend in Israel it’s full of people dropping acid. That’s a whole other conversation. But you know, if you want to take a spiritual inventory, I don’t think that some psychoactives are a bad idea.
Donnell Alexander (27:07):
Yeah. Special episode coming up. All right, so we’re going to say goodbye to you guys. Thanks for coming through.
Happy everything. Stay safe.
Donnell Alexander (27:17):
That’s our show for this week. Alex has a post from social media.
Alex Halperin (27:21):
So, today’s tweet comes from Michael J. Armstrong, who’s a business professor in Canada and his Twitter handle is @profMJArmstrong. He points to the lack of federal relief for cannabis businesses and says that it’s another reminder that cannabis isn’t really legal yet anywhere in the US despite “state level” “legalization.” It’s a fair point. Cannabis really exists in in a gray area. You know, there’s a lot of talk now that the industry’s essential status is going to be a real point of leverage going forward. We’ll see about that. I think that that’s sort of hopeful optimism. I think it depends more on what happens in November than on cannabis being deemed essential.
Donnell Alexander (28:14):
Okay. Well we have all these interactions and fascinating conversations happening for us @weedweeknews. I want to mention before we get out of here, the Friday evening cocktail hour on IG live. That’s @weedweeknews, IG live, but we did the first freezer stash episode last Friday. Did you catch any of that Alex?
Alex Halperin (28:34):
I did not.
Donnell Alexander (28:36):
Okay. Well it’s kind of a live podcast with guests. We had shipped from foreign 20 blackbirds. We had our friend from Weedmaps, Nick Juarez, and I don’t know if you caught this in my newsletter last week, but I excerpted a conversation about blunts being out of the picture from the BroBible. Did you catch that?
Alex Halperin (28:55):
I stole that for my newsletter as well.
Donnell Alexander (28:58):
I have to tell you, Nick had the best comment about the BroBible. He described it as a media outlet. He didn’t know exist, but he deep down knew existed. So, the BroBible actually had great stuff worth arguing about and I’m finding these freezer stash episodes really fun because they’re podcasts that go away within 24 hours. There’s no record of the conversation, but they’re free spirited and alcohol driven. Check us out.
Alex Halperin (29:23):
Tune into that. I’m definitely going to. We’re also doing our weekly news brief with me and Canada editor, Jesse Staniforth, running through some of the latest developments of the week. And that’s every Friday at 10:00 AM Pacific on Zoom. The link is in the show notes.
Donnell Alexander (29:39):
For more news, you can sign up for the Canada and California weeklies or Alex’s original five-year-old newsletter at weedweek.net, and they’re all free. If you’re this deep into the episode, it only makes practical sense for you immediately subscribe and review and like us on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever it is you happen to be listening to us.
Alex Halperin (29:58):
I’m Alex Halperin
Donnell Alexander (29:59):
And I’m Donnell Alexander.
Alex Halperin (30:00):
Our show is produced by Donnell Alexander and engineered by Larry Buhl. Alicia Byer wrote our theme music. We’ll see you here next week. Stay safe, everyone.
Donnell Alexander (30:08):