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Mahatma Bruce

My dad’s 50-year odyssey of defending criminals, fighting the war on drugs, getting high, legalizing weed, breaking the bounds of perception, and serving G-d

Madison Margolin
April 20, 2022
Courtesy of Madison Margolin
Bruce MargolinCourtesy of Madison Margolin
Courtesy of Madison Margolin
Bruce MargolinCourtesy of Madison Margolin

For the first time in his life, my dad’s hair—what’s left of it, at least—is finally just long enough to pull into a short gray ponytail, a singular curl arching toward the nape of his neck. At the age of 80, it’s been a decadeslong goal of his, but one he couldn’t pull off for much of his career as a criminal defense attorney. In court, he’s had to suit up and play the part of nice Jewish lawyer while defending other long-hairs, rebels against the government, hippies, pot growers, dealers, teenagers who’d been victims of the war on drugs, and other underdogs. “From marijuana to murder” is how he used to describe the breadth of his work, but cannabis law has always been at the heart of his practice. On Sunday mornings, during “Breakfast with the Beatles,” his radio commercials always began the same way: “No one belongs in jail for marijuana.”

I was in seventh grade when my dad ran for governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger and more than 100 other candidates in California’s recall election. On the ballot, the secretary of state designated him as a “marijuana legalization attorney,” and he came in 11th place. Having spent little money on the campaign, my dad tells me, “We didn’t want to buy the campaign, we wanted people to vote for the issue to legalize marijuana because they believed in it.”

Keep in mind this was 2003. D.A.R.E., which has now been phased out of most public schools, was alive and well back then; my own D.A.R.E. officer would harass me at lunch, in fact, checking in with a quiet straight-A student on “how things were at home.” Teachers would also make remarks, letting me know they’d heard my dad’s radio jingle by SoCal stoner punk band the Kottonmouth Kings: “1-800-420-LAWS, Bruce Margolin’s down for the cause.”

My dad’s a hustler; as a kid, I remember him always with his briefcase, schlepping to court in the mornings, then taking lunch around the corner from his West Hollywood law office, a bungalow on Holloway Drive, just off the Sunset Strip, where he would then smoke a joint in the backyard and take client meetings for the rest of the afternoon. “The office” was like my second home: In elementary and middle school, I’d squeeze between the hippies and haze of pot smoke at NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) parties, as my dad was the founder and director of the LA chapter (now he is director emeritus). During high school and college, I worked at the office, thinking back then I’d want to follow in the footsteps of my dad and older sister and become a pot lawyer, too. I’d sit at the front desk, across from a wall of legal volumes and a never-used fireplace facing leather couches and a coffee table, admiring the crystal goblet my father received as “Criminal Defense Attorney of the Year” in 1999. I’d greet clients, some of them my own age, edit my dad’s annual publication, The Margolin Guide to Marijuana Laws, and answer the phones. The phones were always ringing. When I was really young, the hold music was jazz; later on it was Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up.”

No surprise, my dad loves weed, although he always says he doesn’t promote the use of cannabis—he only advocates for the right to choose to use it legally. Aside from when he’d go to court, most other times of day were fair game for getting high—including when he’d come to my school events, reeking of weed, and sometimes would even take a nap out on the grass, lying on his back with one of those Hare Krishna prayer shawls covering his face. But although he was raised an LA boy, smokes the “sacred herb,” eats vegetarian, meditates daily, and has an almost religious yoga practice, he still doesn’t manage to totally fit the pot-smoking hippie stereotype. “Why does he sound like My Cousin Vinny?” a friend of mine once aptly asked.

Indeed, there are many aspects to my father’s personality—some of which remind me why I’m in therapy. As a father of four children from three different mothers, and with a couple of step-kids along the way, he likes to say: “If it’s not one thing, it’s the mother.” Classic for men (of that generation) to absolve themselves of responsibility, but his statement does ring just a little bit true. My own mother—a beautiful Jewess from Queens with the mouth of Fran Drescher on a good day and Susie Greene on a bad one—is one of the most loving and pure-hearted people I know, but she brings her own drama to the table, enough to last my father a lifetime and turn him off to Jewish women altogether. His current partner, a Buddhist “tantrapraneur” from Thailand whom he met at yoga, is about the same age as my older sister, and nowadays makes delicious curries for all our Jewish holiday celebrations. (You’ll have to read my upcoming book for details on the rest.)

My dad’s been married four times. We say the first doesn’t count because they didn’t have kids. Then came my older sister’s mother, a fierce divorce attorney and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Next was my mom and my brother’s. And then came my (eventually former) step-mother (because what LA JAP worth the title doesn’t have at least one ex-step-mother?)—tall and blond, from Orange County by way of Utah, where she was raised Mormon and later left the fold to end up as a single mom of two, claiming to be the inspiration behind the Showtime series Weeds. My dad’s old friend and “guru brother” Ram Dass officiated the wedding; a few years later, a BuJew rabbi performed a conversion, and after that my youngest sister was born.

For a man who’s entering into a period of life he calls “maturity,” there’s still a 13-year-old boy inside of my dad, still grieving his older brother—who at 22 died of leukemia after his bar mitzvah—choosing almost daily to cover the bald of his head with a beanie that reads “Party Then Die,” and navigating life through freedom-loving, hardworking, G-d-loving devotion.

“You know what kid? I’ve had no idea what the fuck I’m doing since 1970,” he told me once on a hike at dusk through Franklin Canyon Park, where I confronted him about all this family meshugas. “You’re free,” he said. “Just go with the flow.”

My dad grew up in North Hollywood, where my grandfather—a Russian immigrant and dedicated patriot who joined the U.S. Marines when World War II broke out—moved the family from Cleveland when my dad was 4. Yiddish-speaking “New Yawkers,” as my dad calls them, my grandparents were hardworking, blue-collar people; and my dad, the youngest of three boys, was a “latchkey kid” who flunked third grade. (To this day he remains a terrible speller; he even misspelled the initial three words of his first paper in law school, but nevertheless got the highest grade in the class. “When you become a lawyer,” the professor told him, “you’ll have a secretary to prepare your correspondences.”)

The family lived in a mostly Mexican neighborhood, near a zoo, of sorts, where TV and movie animals were kept and trained. My dad once procured a TV gig competing with a chimpanzee, with the goal, he later realized, of demonstrating that the chimp was more capable than he was—performing and failing at tasks like riding a one-wheel bike to look the fool and play the foil as the trained chimp did them with ease. As a little kid, he was known as Bruchino. When he was 13, he stole his brother’s yellow 1950 Buick and drove to the beach; he was so short he could hardly see over the dashboard and his feet barely touched the pedals. In high school, he was a greaser.

My dad’s one guiding light was his oldest brother, a Torah scholar and prodigy (he spoke Latin and played piano), outstanding student, and, my dad suspects, closeted gay man. This uncle, whom I never got to meet, taught my father everything from how to tie his shoes to how to read and chant his parsha and haftorah for his bar mitzvah; then he passed away later that year.

“I was angry, angry at the world,” my dad says. “And because my brother had been my mentor in school, I was lost without him—every time I went to class, I would think about my relationship with him, and I was so overwhelmed by the loss that I would simply walk out of school, in rebellion against my teachers, and hitchhike to the inner city, or East LA, looking for trouble. I wanted to get back at the world, but I didn’t realize what I was really mad about.”

My dad was embarrassed to be Jewish, wondering as a young child in the wake of the Holocaust, “What’s wrong with us that they want to kill us?” and fearing that the neighbors would hear the family singing songs on Shabbos or holidays. One of the few Jews among his peers living off a dirt road, he was afraid of being called a “Christ killer” in school, and didn’t want to stand out among the other kids or get beaten up for being Jewish—never mind that my grandfather, who owned a paint shop, also founded two shuls, including the Free Synagogue, where members contributed whatever they could afford, and Rodef Shalom. When my uncle passed, my dad and his father would go to shul to say Kaddish. Six years later, after the family had moved to a different neighborhood, my dad would go to an Orthodox shul every day for a year, this time alone, to say Kaddish for his own father, my grandfather, who died unexpectedly during an operation. In this time of mourning, 19 years old and on his own, supporting himself and later helping to support his mother, my father received no warm embrace from anyone at the shul. No one ever said hello or even asked what he was doing there. It turned him off to Judaism.

“I remember going to the mortuary with the rabbi in the back of the limousine and I called him every filthy, disgusting name in the world, asking him to give me some answers,” my dad recalls of his father’s death. “I was angry at him because he represented that lack of communication that I needed so badly, and I believed [religion] was the place I could get it from. This man wasn’t able to communicate any solace to me, and I realized in my anger, that was one of the reasons I wanted to rebel against the world and the establishment that the rabbi represented and which in part failed me. Only recently did I figure out that my anger wasn’t at society, it was at G-d—and those who I felt represented him in my life, these (nerdy) Jews.”

Being so angry with G-d assumes a strong belief in G-d. Anger is predicated on conviction and is a form of motivation. Too much anger, like most emotions, is no good, and like fire can be all-consuming; but a little bit of anger is like a small flame under your ass, enough to inspire you to make a change.

My dad may not be “observant” in the traditional sense, but he is, without a doubt, one of the most religious people I know. He’s what I call a frum HinJew: a believing Jew whose spiritual practice includes elements of Hinduism and Buddhism. The anger he felt toward G-d in his youth ultimately inspired him to seek a closer relationship to the divine. “I drove Allison nuts talking about G-d all the time,” my dad says of his time single parenting my older sister. “I was obsessed with trying to find meaning in the religions of the world.” On his bathroom mirror, my dad once taped a Post-it note on which he scrawled, “Whatever happens to me is the best possible thing that could happen to me.” At times, when I’ve worried about money, or about his decisions to take on another family, or to have another child at the age of 64, he’s told me, “The Lord will provide.” And apparently he speaks from experience.

My dad’s life has always been filled with an interesting cast of characters—gem collectors and Rainbow Gathering “family,” hippies from Venice Beach, Topanga, or Laurel Canyon, other activists, politicians, and even, on occassion, countercultural icons like Leonard Cohen, Cher, Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Herrer, Hugh Heffner, Linda Lovelace, (former governor) Jerry Brown, and Laura Huxley (Aldous’ widow). He opened his law practice in 1967 and struck gold, so to speak, defending cannabis “crimes” at the onset of the war on drugs. He became the lawyer to the hippies. In one of his earlier cases, my dad represented about 10 kids living communally in Hollywood who all got busted for weed. In his forthcoming memoir, my dad writes, “They were all arrested and had been locked up in jail with robbers, murderers, and rapists. I was shocked that these kids were being treated as if they were the real criminals and facing years in prison as punishment for something that seemed so innocent and harmless as being involved with this G-d-given plant.” More and more he took on cases like this, and was able to get felony charges for marijuana offenses dismissed based on unlawful police searches and the suppression of evidence. His practice boomed.

In one case, my dad argued with the judge against taking the case to trial because he felt the client didn’t belong in jail in the first place. “Your honor, my understanding of the law is that under the American Bar Association standards regarding punishment, the court should consider the intended wrong in order to punish. In my mind, there is no intended wrong with people involved with marijuana,” he told the judge. “They didn’t intend to hurt anybody, didn’t try to coerce anyone or take advantage of anybody. There is no basis to punish them, your honor, so how can you justify punishing this young man?” The judge hesitated and responded: “Counsel, he broke the law.” At that point, my father says, “I realized we had to do more than just be in the courtroom fighting these cases; we had to go outside the courtroom and change the law.”

And so he got involved in the marijuana legalization movement. Inspired by the success other organizations at the time like the NAACP, my dad founded CAMP (the Campaign to Abolish the Marijuana Prohibition), and publicized it in local news like the LA Free Press, the most widely distributed and one of the first underground weekly newspapers at the time. Later he would join the national movement to work with NORML and promote the cause through political campaigns, running not just for governor in 2003, but also for California State Assembly in 1970 and 1994 and for U.S. Congress in 2012. I don’t think my dad ever ran for office with the expectation that he would win, but his repeated, single-issue efforts over time normalized the idea for many ordinary voters of marijuana legalization. In 1996, he served as an adviser for California’s Proposition 215, the first bill in the country to legalize medical marijuana. With the legal cannabis industry hitting $24 billion in value by 2021 and spanning more than half the states in the country, it obviously only snowballed from there.

In many ways, through his efforts to legalize marijuana, my dad partially put himself out of business. But that was ultimately the point. When California legalized weed for “adult use” in 2016, a judge asked my dad what he would do now. “Your honor,” he responded, “I’m gonna try the stuff.”

Within four years of founding his legal practice in 1967, my dad had defended more cannabis cases than anyone else in the country. For what could be called the very antithesis of corporate law, he had built a large practice of about six lawyers and 15 total employees. He drove nice cars and lived in a big house where he threw fabulous hippie parties, featuring bands like Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat, and Steve Miller. Then, in 1971, he decided to take an indefinite sabbatical. “I wanted to see what life was about and to try to get some answers while I was still young,” he tells me, “as I saw my brother passed on early and my father was not even 60 when he passed. I saw that life was short, and I wasn’t going to wait till I was 70 years old to start davening at a temple to figure out what life was about.”

He was 29 when he consulted with a psychiatrist, Dr. Harry Siegel, who told him, “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.” After about six weeks of therapy, my dad made the decision to go off into the world. “I left my house, I left my car, I left my dog, I just had to go,” he says. The doctor had given him several books on spirituality and consciousness that he said helped him on his journey, including Ram Dass’ then-newly released Be Here Now, Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, Robert de Ropp’s The Master Game, George Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men, and others. “I know where you are going,” Dr. Siegel told my dad. “I only wish I was going with you.”

He began his trip in Greece before making his way south and east, covering Egypt and then Israel, where he lived on a kibbutz before finally ending up in the other promised land of India. There, in Rajasthan, he signed up for a silent meditation course with S.N. Goenka, a Burmese master of the Vipassana method. During the 10-day course, students were required to wake up at 4 in the morning, meditate for repeated three-hour stretches until 9 at night, and never speak unless spoken to. At first it was “torturous,” my dad recalls, thinking he had better things to do than “contemplate my breath,” but by the end of the course, as he writes in his memoir, “I felt mentally very strong and that I had a grasp on the limits and the potential of my thoughts. My body was strong and healthy, especially as I hadn’t eaten meat for a long time—I had given it up as a tapasya during the [State Assembly] primary campaign [of 1970]. All my energies were really high. I was ripe.”

It was an auspicious time, indeed. The ensuing events would set the stage for the rest of my dad’s life, and arguably the lives of his progeny, too. The community that I grew up in, and the religion baked into it, would become my own lifelong muse, endless inspiration for a journalistic career and personal journey spent weaving together the seemingly disparate threads of psychedelics, Judaism, and Hinduism.

As it turned out, many of my dad’s fellow Vipassana students knew Ram Dass, who had taken the previous five courses with Goenka. Formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert, Ram Dass got his start as a nice Jewish boy from Massachusetts whose father co-founded Brandeis University. He worked as a psychology professor at Harvard alongside Dr. Timothy Leary. Before President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs at the tail end of the psychedelic revolution, Leary and Alpert became known for their psychedelic research and experimentation at Harvard—until the administration expelled them in 1963 for giving psilocybin (the main compound in magic mushrooms) to an undergraduate. Leary became an icon of the counterculture, encouraging youth to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” (his phrase), evangelizing the merits of LSD to flower children across the country. Nixon dubbed him “the most dangerous man in America.”

Alpert, on the other hand—who like Leary had tripped countless times—became disillusioned with the inevitable come-down that accompanied getting high. He ventured east, seeking a spiritual practice and connection that he felt was more sustainable and would transcend the artificially induced mystic heights of LSD. In India, Alpert met guru Neem Karoli Baba, endearingly known by devotees as Maharajji, and was given the name Ram Dass (“servant of Ram” or “servant of G-d”). Most of the original satsang or community surrounding Maharajji adopted such Hindu names, combining them with their surnames, which were often Jewish—one of my father’s best friends, for example, is Mohan Baum, formerly known as Steve from Long Island. When Ram Dass came back to the States, he wrote Be Here Now, inspired by his experiences with his guru.

"[Ram Dass] came back to America and lectured about his experience of being a Jew and how that did not conflict with the teachings of dharma [basic principles of existence] and Hinduism. I appreciated that very much,” my dad says. “I thought, maybe there were some answers that I could see, and shall we say by serendipity, I came to know Richard Alpert in India.”

After the Goenka course, my dad trekked to New Delhi. On the roster of a hotel he decided to stay in, he noticed Ram Dass’ name. My dad wasn’t attempting to meet Ram Dass, let alone knew where to find him. Going around Delhi asking for Ram Dass, my dad jokes, would be like wandering around New York City asking for John Smith. He left a note for Ram Dass at the front desk, saying he had a message from Goenka (who’d told my father if he somehow came across Alpert, to let him know that “he is a man of love and could be a great teacher”). He received a reply with an invite up to Ram Dass’ room. By this point my father had read Be Here Now cover to cover countless times, studying it in depth as if it were his personal bible. Incense smoke wafted like perfume throughout the young baba‘s hotel abode, decorated with photos of an elderly Indian man wrapped in a plaid blanket (common among Maharajji devotees, much the way Lubavitchers display photos of the Rebbe).

Ram Dass asked my father what else he had planned for his stay in India. “As far as I’m concerned, this is it,” my dad told him. “You are the epitome of what I had hoped to experience here.” Ram Dass shook his head no, admitting that whatever value my father saw in him was just a reflection of Maharajji; he instructed my dad to go meet the guru four hours away by train in Vrindavan—immediately.

One of the holiest cities in India, Vrindavan is situated on the sacred Yamuna River—a main tributary of the Ganges—and has the same religious fervor as Jerusalem. It is not uncommon to see people there praying several times a day by lying on the ground in the middle of traffic (this is Indian traffic, mind you, so think Times Square with no lanes) and roll around in prostration. If that’s not faith in G-d’s protection, I don’t know what is.

“When I got to [Maharajji’s] temple in Vrindavan, I thought about the protocol of going to a guru, of surrendering yourself, of pranaming or bowing down to a human,” my dad tells me. “I wouldn’t say it was abhorrent, but uncomfortable, knowing it’s not our Jewish tradition.” Even so, my father put aside his concerns and laid his head upon the tucket, or low bench, made for the perch of a guru. Then Maharajji revealed himself through psychic details that convinced my father of the guru’s unconditional love, soulful presence, and fractalized consciousness, unbound by the confines of his physical body. “I learned from the guru that it’s all one, whether it’s called Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other ism,” my dad tells me. “Even though in India they have all these statues and deities they appear to be praying to, they see beyond that and know those are just props and they’re praying to one G-d just like Jews pray to one G-d.”

It helped that this particular Hindu guru had the familiar air and wit of a Jewish zayde. Tempted to grow his hair out and stay in India as a hippie and devotee of Maharajji, my dad gathered from his guru’s messages that he should instead return to America. According to Maharajji’s wisdom, my dad had a “boon,” a skill or a gift from G-d, which he had a responsibility to use in the service of others, and that to serve others would be to serve G-d. And so my dad returned to Los Angeles, reopened his law practice, and devoted himself to fighting on behalf of victims of the drug war.

Not long after he reopened his law practice, my dad got a call from Ram Dass. His good friend Timothy Leary had been captured in Kabul, arrested, and returned to his jail cell in the Southern California suburb of Santa Ana—a year and a half after having escaped that prison (he’d been sentenced on a marijuana possession charge), then seeking refuge in North Africa, Switzerland, and finally Afghanistan. Leary was facing 10 years for five grams of weed, not to mention any consecutive sentence for the crime of escape.

“I agreed to represent him pro bono because at that time, he had no financial ability, and for me, I thought he was an important icon and represented freedom,” my dad says of the LSD mogul. “Maybe in a twisted way, but it was freedom nevertheless.” The case garnered a good deal of attention and went all the way to trial. My dad hoped it would illustrate the injustice of marijuana prohibition, and in court he described Leary as a “an eagle beating his wings against the cage,” although as Time magazine put it, “it took the jury only an hour and a half to turn the defendant into a common jail bird.”

My dad smokes weed exclusively from joints or from his Volcano—what is now considered an old-school vaporizer equipped with an inflatable plastic bag from which you inhale the vapor of heated cannabis flower. I remember when the Volcano first came out, we all thought it was the coolest, most futuristic way to get high. Nowadays it reeks of early aughts cannabis culture.

The author and her father in India
The author and her father in IndiaCourtesy of Madison Margolin

He calls smoking marijuana a “religious experience,” and when he does it, he makes a bracha of sorts, “Om Namaha Shivaya,” evoking the Hindu lord Shiva with whom cannabis is associated. Shiva devotees use cannabis in the form of flower (ganja), hashish (charras), or a type of potion (bhang), as a sacrament to connect with the blue-skinned deity known for the power of destruction (and who is also known as the father of yoga and mind-altering substances). That includes destruction of the ego, my dad reminds me. “When people use the sacred herb, they are less identified with their egos.”

On one of the various retreats in Maui before Ram Dass “left his body,” as they say, my dad asked him for advice about cannabis advocacy; it was after California had legalized weed for adult use, but the new law was, and as it remains, imperfect. One issue my dad is passionate about is the lack of on-site consumption spaces where people can legally smoke weed indoors, as one would drink alcohol at a bar. The issue here is that it’s also illegal to smoke weed outside in public, and many people who rent apartments aren’t allowed to smoke there either. “I wanted to express to the Los Angeles City Council and cannabis licensing department that there’s a religious experience when it comes to marijuana, and that people have a right to assemble, to come together and enjoy each other’s company in a setting where they can use it openly, just like people who use alcohol,” my dad explained to me. “I went to Ram Dass to give me words of wisdom, to convey this in a simple way. He told me, ‘Tell them that using it is a path to G-d.’”

Indeed, psychedelics, cannabis, or any other entheogen (a substance that occasions a spiritual experience) are known to “open the doors of perception,” says my dad, referring to Aldous Huxley’s seminal essay about his experience with mescaline in the 1950s. “You could lose your self-identity, which could be a very stressful experience, but once you let go of the anxiety that you might feel after being in that state, you might come to realize that it’s all about love and that’s the truth of our being.”

It feels funny to quote my dad in print saying such deep things. As father and daughter, we’ve been through all sides of this experience, and as much as what he’s saying rings true, it’s sometimes a lot for me to digest, coming from him. And yet of everything my dad has taught me, the most important and relevant lesson on a daily basis has been to try to understand things as perfect within their imperfections. Does my father always act like it’s “all about love”? Of course not. But does his work in the world inspire me to believe that this is nonetheless an irrefutable truth? It does.

“When I became a young criminal defense lawyer, I thought it was a good way to fight authority, by fighting for the rights of the downtrodden or accused,” he recounts. “My motivation for participating in marijuana activism as such a big part of my life was that I wanted to relieve suffering, the suffering of those who were arrested and charged, the suffering of those who didn’t have access to a good lawyer who believed in the cause, the suffering of the cost to the public of taxes and incarceration, and to return and rekindle the constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which includes the freedom of choice for themselves.” Is my dad’s ego in his work? Sure. But so is a genuine, authentic commitment to ethics and justice—a love for serving G-d by serving others.

Early in my dad’s career, a client gave him acid. They were up in the wooded hills of Topanga Canyon, and my dad lay down on his back, watching the sky at dusk morph into swirling geometric patterns as his ego began to disintegrate into a sea of LSD consciousness; he watched his friends morph into apes. “I said, ‘Well this is trippy, I’m getting nervous,’ and went back into the house, and realized I couldn’t fight what was happening. I was losing my identity. I was fearful of that—it probably had to do with my ego,” he recalls. “I finally couldn’t take it anymore and just let go, and as I let go, there was a radio station playing and someone was being interviewed about their experience with LSD and they were saying it was all about love. I concentrated on those words and that reaffirmed that at the end of the game, after you lose who you are, it’s about love.”

My dad never became quite that much of a psychonaut. He only took acid a few more times after that first experience, though these days he dabbles in mushrooms with his current life partner, who’s well versed in the terrain of plant medicine. But generally speaking, even a glass of wine will knock him out. He sticks to weed.

“These things, except the sacred herb, don’t bring me closer to G-d,” he says. “My life is full, and I have a sense of peace, from my yoga practice, and my meditation, which I learned in India, and my satsang.” At every meal, my dad says a bracha over his food, head bowed as he closes his eyes and thanks HaShem for the nourishment before him. Should he forget to give thanks, he holds himself to a seven-hour fast. But he never forgets. And not once have I ever seen him go a meal without a bracha first.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that everything that happens in our world is based upon our feelings and mental thoughts about it—we evaluate everything between our two ears,” he says. “It’s a blessing of being able to be human and experience the tremendous beauty all the world provides. It comes from another source beyond our own thoughts at times.”

Every night my dad meditates at his puja table, a small wooden frame decorated with old pictures of his parents and us kids. In the drawers are his tefillin and other precious items. He sits for a minimum of 11 minutes, perhaps a nod to his birthday on the 11th of September.

Even at 80, he still likes to remind me frequently that the avatar Shiva, with whom cannabis is associated, is the destroyer—destroyer of the ego. And when people smoke weed together (which is why he’s so passionate about on-site consumption policy), they feel closer and more loving and more identified with each other than with their own personal problems and identities, he explains. “And that’s why when I use herb, I say a little mantra, as a way to identify the fact that G-d is in everything. My guru said that it’s better to see G-d in everything than to try and figure it out. My guru inspired me to know that you have a boon to help others. In this case, a boon means a power. That’s what you should do to have a full life. My boon is to represent people in court and protect them against incarceration and make sure they receive justice—particularly when it comes to marijuana use.”

Madison Margolin is a journalist living in New York. She specializes in writing about Jewish culture and drug policy.