A legal high

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The Takoma Wellness Center is open for business, but don’t expect to just drop by and start getting high.

On Aug. 1, Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn and his wife, Stephanie, opened one of D.C.’s only two medical marijuana dispensaries. A third is expected to open shortly. But due to stringent rules established by the D.C. Department of Health, Kahn has only been able to sell to four people in his first two weeks. As of the beginning of this week, only 15 District residents have completed the process, gotten their cards and can now legally purchase marijuana.


“It’s all starting very small,” says Kahn, who was a congregational rabbi for 27 years.

His center has four “100 percent pure” strains of the drug but he hopes to one day offer about 50 strains to 500 customers.

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While still labeled a controlled substance and therefore illegal under federal law, the D.C. government has agreed to allow five medical marijuana dispensaries and 10 cultivators to do business in the District. Currently, only one cultivator is open for business.

Twenty states and D.C. have approved the sale of medical marijuana. Another two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana even for recreational use.


In D.C., a person must live in the city and suffer from one of five illnesses, including AIDS, HIV, cancer, glaucoma and such muscular conditions as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.

The next step is to obtain written permission from a D.C. licensed physician. While many doctors practicing in Maryland and Virginia have D.C. licenses, a person can’t just stop by get the proper papers signed. Instead, the patient and doctor must have a bona fide relationship, meaning “perhaps seeing him several times over a period of months,” Kahn explained.

Once a doctor signs the appropriate approval form, the applicant must then fill out a nine-page form and submit two photographs and $100 to the District’s Department of Health, Kahn explained during an interview at Soupergirl Restaurant, just a short walk from his wellness center on Blair Road in northwest Washington.

Kahn and his wife operate the business with their son, Rabbi James Kahn, director of Jewish Engagement and Chaplaincy at the Jewish Social Service Agency, and daughter-in-law, a physical therapist. His other son lives in Israel and recently completed his military service as a combat soldier. He now works for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the group that sponsors trips for young people to go to the Jewish state.

While most people think that marijuana is for smoking, Kahn discourages that use. The dried flower buds he sells come in the form of a salve, a tincture or a substance that is inhaled through a vaporizer. He also recommends converting the buds into an oil or butter that can be used in cooking. He laughs when asked about the stereotypical marijuana-filled brownie, but then seriously adds, “Sick people eating brownies all day is not a good idea.”

Both Kahn and his wife, who has a bachelor’s in nursing and is a hospital administrator, want to provide a full-service operation in which they discuss diet and overall lifestyle with their users.

They recommend certain marijuana strains over others, depending on the person’s symptoms. While there is not one type of cannabis for cancer and another for AIDS, different strains can help a person who can’t keep food down or has trouble sleeping, Kahn explains.

Much of the knowledge of which strains help what problem comes from Hebrew University in Israel, Kahn notes with obvious pride. Recently, an Israeli Orthodox rabbi ruled that distributing and smoking medicinal marijuana is kosher, but using weed for fun is not allowed.

“We really don’t have this hard scientific evidence” but rather “a huge library of anecdotal evidence” that marijuana can help those suffering from certain diseases, Kahn explains.

Kahn believes the use of medical marijuana can only grow. He points to a recent documentary aired on CNN that spoke positively about its use. Then on Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug users.

For now, Kahn’s life revolves around his cellphone as he awaits calls from approved customers. Because D.C. mandates that two employees and a security guard must be present at each sale, Kahn spends his day coordinating visits. A customer who had hoped to stop by Monday morning had to be told to come by on Tuesday as no security personnel was available on Monday.

Eventually his goal is to have set hours in which people can come by and the necessary personnel already will be on site. Should the money come rolling in, then Kahn and other family members will draw a salary but give all profit to charities, including ones suggested by their patients as well as ones in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Kahn is content to ease the suffering of just a few and follow Jewish wisdom that declares the health of a person comes first.

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