Hello Halal Hemp: A New Voice Connecting Cannabis and Muslims
This article was originallt puyblished in Forbes Magazine.
When you’ve been fighting to end the stigma around cannabis as long as I have, few moments thrill you more than seeing others join the cause and move it forward. Halal Hemp is a new inspiring development in cannabis/hemp commerce and culture, with an up-and-coming generation of Muslim leaders working to bring cannabis/hemp—and the healing that goes with it—to every Muslim in the world.
This is no easy task given the history of cannabis prohibition in that part of the world, and the complexities of religious texts and traditions around cannabis. And yet, there’s also a long tradition of cannabis consumption in Muslim countries, going back hundreds of years. When I caught up with Halal Hemp cofounder Ishaq Ali, I learned so much about cannabis in the Muslim world and why halal certification can play a key role in opening up a market of three billion people.
What is the relationship to cannabis in the Muslim world today?
There’s a growing awareness in Muslim countries of the benefits of medical cannabis. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East, smoking is still common and accepted. Landrace strains grow in abundance, and hemp and cannabis plants grow in the wild. But the effects of prohibition, primarily from a legacy of colonization, caused governments to enforce harsh and punitive laws for possession or use. In some cases, capital punishment. The majority of Muslims think the consumption of cannabis is haram (forbidden) because they only see the narrative of ‘getting stoned’ or ‘high.’ The stigma is still strong, despite the plant being used as medicine for generations prior to prohibition. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in order for acceptance and adoption to become more mainstream.
What’s the Muslim world’s past relationship to cannabis?
Cannabis has been used in the East for centuries, with landrace strains coming out of South Asia, such as the very popular Afghan Kush, in addition to the use of bhang and hashish. What's particularly intriguing is the use of cannabis in Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam. Many people in the West are familiar with the famous Sufi poet, Rumi. But the founder of Sufism, Shaykh Haydar, was known to use cannabis to reach a higher consciousness. According to the research done by Shaykh Mustafa, author of the 2018 Fatwa passed by the North American Fiqh Council, the Ḥanafī school, a more liberal school of thought, allows cannabis consumption for medical purposes. Even the more conservative Shāfi’ī school argued that it is not prohibited to consume a small quantity of ḥashīsh.
In both instances, cannabis does not intoxicate as opposed to wine, where even a small amount is prohibited. He argues that the difference between the two substances is that one is pure and the other impure. The Hanafi opines that it is permissible to use unlawful medication if it is known that the cure lies in the medication and that no alternative is available. Imam Zarkashi from the Shafi’i school has historically been stricter but he agrees with the opinion of using ḥashīsh as medicine, as long as it is proven to be more beneficial than other medicines.
What is the origin story of Halal Hemp?
Halal Hemp is the first and only direct-to-consumer, halal-certified, CBD marketplace in the world, serving the Muslim renaissance of consumers. I co-founded it with Tengku Chanela Jamidah.
I’m half Colombian/half Pakistani, born and raised in Fresno, California. I grew up in a Muslim household, and was raised in part by the greater Muslim community. I’ve been working in the cannabis industry since 2016, and eventually found myself at Eaze, the state’s largest tech-based cannabis retailer. I spent time on multiple teams, including legal and compliance, and public affairs, where I focused on creating and managing the company’s social impact programs.
After publishing an essay on cannabis and Islam on the Eaze blog, I connected with Jamidah, a Malaysian royal who’s actively involved in the fashion and beauty industry, and is a champion for change, supporting medical cannabis legalization across Asia. She was a panelist at the first hemp conference held at the UN, and a speaker at the first cannabis symposium held in Malaysian parliament.
What is the mission of Halal Hemp?
Halal Hemp's mission is to reclaim the cannabis, hemp and plant medicine movement to empower Muslim and globalized communities through our signature Five Pillars: Education, Policy, Economic Decolonization, Community Collaboration and Sustainability. In order for this audience to feel confident in consuming a product, Muslims typically want to see that it has been verified by a religious council, and vetted to be safe and in line with their religious beliefs.
Our main operations are broken down into consultancy and certification services, organizing educational programs and conferences, as well as building out a platform for halal-certified brands to reach a Muslim audience through our marketplace. Perhaps the most significant and important part of the mission is social impact, as we recognise that if anyone is to make a profit from hemp we must make a donation towards wrongfully imprisoned, non-violent prisoners, and compassionate care programs.
Why should a company go through the expense of getting halal certification?
The halal market is a $3 trillion economy and growing.
Halal certification is one of the least expensive consumer-facing certifications available on the market. Cannabis brands in particular are barred from USDA Organic and other “standard” certifications for consumable goods due to federal prohibition so halal certification can serve as an alternative for brands to communicate their standards and quality to their consumers. Furthermore, halal-certified products do not contain animal proteins so they appeal to vegan consumers and because these products are vegan they are more carbon friendly, appealing to consumers conscious of their carbon footprint.
In the industry’s long quest for destigmatization, halal certification begins to chip away at the stigma in a significant global community.