Illustration by Joelle McKenna
Dec 7, 2020
Holy rolling: Confessions of an orthodox Jewish drug dealer
A tree grows in Brooklyn, sure. Some weed grows in Brooklyn, too—often where you'd least expect it.
“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so.” ~ Genesis 1:11
“All her ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peaceful. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who lay hold of her are blessed.” ~ Proverbs 3:17-18
A tree grows in Brooklyn, sure. Some weed grows in Brooklyn, too. And “Danik” an entrepreneur who specializes in kosher edibles for the orthodox community grows a whole lot more of it on a farm five hours outside the city. Working with his web of local dealers, the plants are rolled into loose joints and they’re processed down in unassuming kitchens across the borough, infused into chocolates and gummies. He’s also recently started selling microdoses of psilocybin and hash.
On Friday the House of Representatives passed a historic bill to decriminalize cannabis. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, would end a federal ban on marijuana and clear the way to erase nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. A step in the right direction, depending on whom you ask, though Senate is unlikely to approve the bill.
Meanwhile, New York State still lags behind Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, and many others in terms of decriminalization despite the fact that the borough’s own Chuck Schumer has vowed to bring the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act to the senate floor. If passed, the bill would end federal prohibition while promising long-overdue legislative and criminal justice reform with a priority towards opportunities for women and minority owned small businesses. Until that showdown finally makes the rounds in Washington, New York’s underground drug trade will thrive.
We granted “Danik” complete anonymity in exchange for a peek into how he puts the “high” in the surprisingly high holidays. Here is his story.
‘Screwed’ from day one
I believe my interest in dealing all started with Al Goldstein’s “Screw” magazine. It was March of 1988 and little Danik was walking down Brighton 6th Street to go to P.S. 253. And he found an issue of “Screw” magazine. Ever since then, [I’ve been obsessed with] contraband, anything that is taboo, that you cannot show your teachers, your parents, nobody. You have it in your possession and you know if you get caught with it you’re in trouble.
That day in class Luis Hernandez was like, “yo, man, let me see it.” And I’m like, “no, we’re gonna get in trouble. Dude, I’ll show it to you after class.” This is fourth grade; Mr. Van Ness’ class. And he’s like, “Yo, if you don’t show it to me now, I’m going to tell the teacher.” He raised his hand and he got me in trouble that day. I remember it very well and ever since then, contraband—anything that you’ve got to find in seedy places, you’ve got to find that through the know, through somebody knocking on that “what’s behind the green door” type thing—that’s always been New York to me.
I started growing mushrooms back in high school because it was like “Woo! It gets people high.” I’m like “oh, I can grow it myself. It gets you high. This should be fun.” So just growing it was another contraband. I have never had a pet so it’s always been like growing pets. Give it a few months and you’ve got pets and then you eat them and then everybody has a good time.
…In the beginning there were edibles
It starts like this: many years ago a kid in yeshiva learned how to make the extract from marijuana. He started putting it into kosher edibles and it just took off with a lot of the Jews in the neighborhood. It’s all of Crown Heights. They know him by name. They know him as the edible guy. He makes it in 100 milligram chocolate buttons. He makes them into 40 milligram bars. There’s capsules, there’s sour candies, there’s all kinds of edibles that he perfected over the years. Everybody knows him. What they know is that they’re very, very strong. So people take them on special occasions. They definitely split them up with friends. Most of Crown Heights knows this guy and knows these edibles.
I met this kid at a Purim party. I asked to work for him and he got back to me many months later when his other guy was moving to Israel. He was like, all right, we’ll take over this guy’s clientele. I started taking over for this guy and then since it’s all kosher in terms of edibles and things like that, I’ve got most of the Jewish communities: Williamsburg, Borough Park, Crown Heights. I’ve gotten to know the people who buy regularly: the guy who comes in for 10 chocolates every Monday or I stop by this guy’s supermarket and I drop him a couple of joints and a couple of chocolates for the weekend. Anybody who smokes, vapes, or does edibles in those neighborhoods knows my name or one or two other guys. Those other guys are mostly into very high end buds. Once you deal then you can do a lot of things. And what I learned from this was to be a one stop shop. Anybody who wants this and that, I’ll have it. You want a vape battery? I have a battery for you! You want this? I have that! Everybody knows to go to either me or these two other guys. The difference with them is everybody goes to them while I go to everybody.
There’s one guy in Borough Park and everybody comes to him. Just like his door is always open. They go upstairs, they buy their stuff, and they talk in Yiddish. Total Yiddish. One hundred percent Yiddish.
POT: Put on tefillin!
There are two clashing challachic [Jewish law] ideas here. One is you gotta use the herbs and seeds that God put on this earth. That’s a mitzvah. And at the same time, you have to obey the laws of the land. So you’re always in confrontation with doing something illegal and also elevating yourself to do a mitzvah. Now, on Shabbos you can’t smoke cigarettes, you can’t smoke joints, you can’t light a fire, you can’t put out a fire. So that’s where the edibles got really popular. Everybody needs to do something on Shabbos. So it’s a Shabbos thing. Like obviously Friday afternoons I’m really, really busy. And then after Shabbos, I get the calls right back again.
On strict kashruth
I feel like everything we do is farm to table.
Somebody asked me, what’s the kashruth [the Kosher certification] on this? I’m like, “look, it was made by shabbat-observant kosher-keeping Jew. It’s made from kosher ingredients with kosher utensils and dishware.” If you know the neighborhood of Crown Heights, you know that this has been a kosher edible forever. There’s hundreds, if not thousands of people that would verify that the guy who made them is Jewish. He keeps kosher. These are kosher ingredients. As for getting a rabbi to oversee it, that’s like another world, man. You’ve got to get a lab with cleanliness points and everything. You actually have to have a place.
There’s different levels of orthodoxy now. Some people will only drink milk from Israel—chalav yisroel. Our chocolates are basically kosher chocolates melted with cannabis oil. So there’s really nothing here to be non-kosher. We don’t use any beef or any dairy products. We don’t use any dishes that have been used for non kosher meals. We’ve been making these edibles since the ‘90s. It’s just very simple for the Jewish community to eat edibles on shabbos.
The observant people who I sell the bulk of edibles to really want to elevate their learning, really elevate the holiday to a new level. They pop it in the morning and by the time they read the Torah, they are on a special level closer to God: very high up in the sky.
LSD: Let’s start davening!
[My clients are] young people. It’s also old people that have been doing it for a long time. There’s the ex-hippies that turned Jews: the ba’al t’shuvas. Think about Israelis: they’re ravers, they love MDMA, they love Molly, you know, they’re all like kooky out there. And a lot of the Crown Heights community is Israeli. They come over here to learn. So they’re into those kinds of drugs. You always meet the guys with the accents and they’re like, “yo, MDMA, Molly or Ecstasy or whatever!” They always like the hash as well.
I’m a salesman, I really try to hock my wares for those who heard something about it. You know, “Silicon Valley does these microdoses, maybe we should look into that.” And some people are professional businessmen. They want to get in on that. Some people are the depressed anxious type of people and they’ve tried everything so they’re like, “I heard we could do some good with mushrooms.” That’s definitely not widespread. It’s not wide known. The knowledge is not out there but it’s still the ‘60s and ‘70s fear mongering of like, “Will they have a psychotic break down” or something like that. And then there’s always the anecdote like “Chaim once took that stuff and he’s never been the same.”
On the path of the righteous man, or, isn’t dealing drugs a sin?
To be honest, I’m not in the community very much in the “learned” or the “sin and God” kind of sense, which is where the Torah scholars—the yeshiva bachars—all congregate and get together. I don’t have any connection to my rabbi any more or the rabbis that I dealt with a long time ago. For the most part, everyone’s open to it. They’re not anti at all. There’s a guy who I give it to and he’s considered the mayor of the block. He’s a very wise man. When I gave [psilocybin microdoses] to him, he’s like “some people could really use this.” And when I got that from him, then I was like, all right, I can change people’s minds if they try it. It’s 0.2 grams. You’re not gonna die. It feels like a coffee.
So once you introduce it to people and get them to learn and watch videos and read some books on it, they see who it can help in their life. They’re like, “Oh, my wife can use that for her SSRI intake and this one could help my depressed friend.” So it’s slowly spreading and my name is known to be the guy who has it. You want to take it to improve your life. I’ll tell them “Hey, ever eat an oyster mushroom? They’re so good for a protein and Omega Three. What about this mushroom? I got another mushroom that’ll help you focus and clear your head and get your life onto the right track and blow your depression all out.” I’m just introducing something new. It’s never been like “Ooh pothead, hippie…He’s gonna turn to women and wine and get away from the Torah.” Now it’s just people who want to elevate their spirituality and just take it to another level and things like that. The sky’s the limit.
Well, yeah, there already kind of is [a dispensary] on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights. There’s a place called Kosher CBD. They have edibles, cannabis, CBD, all kinds of tinctures, flowers. So it is a store, I think legalization is very soon upon us so why wouldn’t you have a kosher dispensary? This stuff is vegan, nondairy, kosher, made by Jews. Why wouldn’t you treat it the same way you go to the supermarket and see a kosher chicken? It’s about the neighborhood, it’s about where your people are.
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