The first question when you find out that one of Washington D.C's premiere medical dispensaries is run by a Rabbi and his family has to be: "So, nu? Is cannabis considered to be kosher?"
"It is," assures Rabbi Jeffery Kahn of the Takoma Wellness Center.
But just how did a Rabbi, his wife, and his family all come together to open the first ever medical marijuana dispensary in the nation's capital? It's a bit of a story, and like most Rabbis, Jeffery Kahn enjoys sharing his with me.
"My father-in-law, who passed away in 2005, had Multiple Sclerosis for 50 years," he explains by way of introduction. Kahn's father-in-law, Jules Reifkind, sought cures and treatments from all over the world in an attempt to help his MS.
"Among the many things that were recommended to him — and that he tried — along with snake venom and biofeedback and addictive pharmaceuticals, a doctor suggested he try cannabis," Kahn shares. Yet Reifkind, a Korean War vet, wasn't eager to try something that was still very much illegal, and also happened to have a "bad rap" at the time. Eventually, though, he did try it, and the entire family was amazed at the significant difference it made in his condition.
Inspired by Reifkind, as well as the AIDS patients he met who were medicating with cannabis during his early congregational work in the midwest, Rabbi Kahn and his family felt they could make a difference in DC once medical marijuana became legal. They applied to open a dispensary in 2010 and after a long process, the Takoma Wellness Center finally opened in 2013.
A congregational Rabbi for 27 years, Kahn no longer serves as a Rabbi to any synagogues. However, that doesn't mean his counseling days are over. "For most of our patients, having somebody that they really can talk to on a regular basis is really important for them — it is missing from their lives," he says, comparing the connection he fosters in the dispensary to a time when many people had family physicians who really knew them.
"Having somebody to talk to and about the whole issue that they're facing is something that people seem to appreciate, and we spend a lot of time cultivating a relationship with our patients," says Kahn.
Kahn says that his patients not only enjoy that they're a family owned and operated business, but that they're a Jewish family, and that he's a Rabbi. "It's part and parcel of who we are and what we do," he explains. He does admit to some intricacies that every other dispensary in the country doesn't have to contend with. The Takoma Wellness Center is closed on the Sabbath as well as Jewish holidays. But what others may see as a detriment to success has actually been happily accepted by Kahn's patients and community.
"It's nice for us to see that in an industry where Friday night and Saturdays are considered the most important time for dispensaries to be open, we're closed, and so far it hasn't been hurtful at all," he tells me. "Our patients seems to appreciate and respect it."
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In the end, it is the patients that are at the heart of this family-run medical cannabis dispensary. Rabbi Kahn and his family are there to provide comfort, education, and support for their patients in a judgment-free, community setting. And they're doing so in a way that strongly connects them to Kahn's in-laws. "We've really dedicated the dispensary in memory and in honor of my in-laws. The thing that is important to us is that we are a place that they would feel comfortable going. We've created an atmosphere that sick people their age can really come for help."
If you happen to find yourself in need of a dispensary in D.C., and you find yourself in the Old Takoma section of the city, stop on in to Rabbi Kahn's place. Pick up some medicine, a smidge of conversation, and perhaps a little spiritual high as well.