Meet Rabbi Jeffrey and Stephanie Kahn, proprietors of one of the East Coast’s first legal medical marijuana dispensaries.
Most American Jews honor their late parents with a memorial plaque, regular cemetery visits or attending Yizkor services.
Stephanie Kahn, a nurse, is honoring her parents by opening a medical marijuana dispensary together with her husband Jeffrey, a rabbi.
The Kahns’ dispensary, in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Takoma, where they live, recently passed its final inspection by the Department of Health and is slated to open this week.
And, they want to assure you, it is totally legal.
Stephanie’s father was sick her whole life with a difficult case of multiple sclerosis. His doctors advised him in the 1970s that marijuana could relieve his pain.
“He was a strait-laced businessman and especially in those days, when marijuana was associated with the counterculture, he didn’t like the idea, but he tried it,” Kahn recalled. “He was positive it helped him. It made a huge difference, and that made a huge impact on me.”
Fast-forward almost 40 years, and find the Kahns, after decades spent pursuing their respective caring professions and raising children, retired empty-nesters “looking for something new and different to do,” as Stephanie put it. Because of their experience with Stephanie’s father, they were closely following the push to legalize marijuana in D.C., which happened in 2011.
Today, 18 states in addition to the District of Columbia have legalized pot for medicinal purposes, and in last November’s election, voters in Washington State and Colorado approved its recreational use. A majority of Americans support legalizing the drug, according to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month. Most Americans no longer see pot as immoral, or as a gateway to other drugs. Under federal law, it is still classified as a dangerous drug with no legitimate uses, but so far the feds haven’t formally challenged any of the state statutes.
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Jeffrey, who has painful memories of working as a Reform rabbi outside Chicago with AIDS sufferers who could have benefited from medial marijuana, had the idea of opening a dispensary. Stephanie thought their two sons would be horrified, but she was wrong.
“Our family sees it as a way to honor my parents, to have a place where people like my parents could go … that will help people who desperately need help,” Stephanie said. “It just seemed beshert [fated]. We were in the right place at the right time.”
So this actually is your grandfather’s pot shop. Stephanie and Jeffrey are eager to dispel any association of their dispensary with popular drug culture, like High Times magazine or the television show “Weeds.”
The Kahns themselves have never used pot recreationally, they say. They also plan to donate their profits to charities that support either the conditions that afflict their customers, or their neighborhood.
The Kahns, and their regulators, are right to be cautious, say traditional Jewish voices.
There’s a tension in Judaism regarding medical marijuana, said Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, the rabbinic director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, who leads workshops on Jewish spiritual resources for confronting illness and creates healing rituals.
On the one hand, the tradition gives substantial latitude in order to alleviate pain; for example, the administration of morphine to ease distress might be allowed even if it shortens life. Then again, maintaining social order by respecting the laws of the state is also an important value. What’s more, Rabbi Weintraub worries that recovering addicts who are not terminally ill might experience challenges to their sobriety if a doctor prescribes a drug like marijuana; he has even written a prayer for such patients that begins, “Healer of all flesh: I come before You in fear and hope.”
Similarly, Dr. Abraham Twerski, a chasidic rabbi and a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse, said he worries that doctors will be too liberal in prescribing marijuana, which is known to cause young people in particular to lose their energy and drive.
“There’s no need to suffer unnecessarily if there’s a safe method of pain relief,” he said. “The worry is that this is not safe.”
The Kahns are pretty square, and their dispensary will be, too. But if they weren’t, they could never have gotten their 350-page application through in D.C., where two-plus years after the city council legalized the drug for medical purposes, the Kahns’ and two other approved dispensaries are still waiting for that green light to go ahead and open.
When that happens, they will provide salves, creams, tinctures and food products to sufferers of the five conditions — AIDS; HIV; glaucoma; cancer and multiple sclerosis, like Stephanie’s father — that in D.C. qualify a resident for a medical marijuana prescription. The Kahns will purchase those products from growers — 95-plant maximum — likewise licensed by the city after a complex application process.
“This is as legal as it can possibly be. It is very, very regulated,” Jeffrey said. “We want to make sure that we are as compliant as possible.”
Clearly, D.C. is not Colorado, and the Kahns are nothing like Mason Tvert, the giggly Jewish activist with a genius for media stunts profiled by Jewish Telegraphic Agency right after last November’s election as the man behind that state’s successful campaign to permit residents over 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot.
Indeed, Jews like Tvert have long been visible proponents of marijuana for both partiers and those in need of pain relief. Think Abbie Hoffman, who wrote, upon the founding of the Youth International Party, or Yippies, “We shall not defeat Amerika by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation — a nation as rugged as the marijuana leaf.” Think poet Allen “Pot is fun” Ginsberg.
Former High Times columnist Ed Rosenthal owns the Quick Trading Company, which publishes books about marijuana cultivation and lifestyle, many written by Rosenthal himself, who blogs under the nom de guerre “Guru of Ganja.” “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan participated in Reboot, the avant-garde Jewish cultural network. Even Israel is an international leader in marijuana research, and its Health Ministry is considering the distribution of medical marijuana in pharmacies. Talk about making aliyah. Literally.
In creating their dispensary, the Kahns say they are trying to walk a middle path. They see it as “a professional place that doesn’t have the drug culture atmosphere,” and “no element of drug kingpins.”
They even want to offer marijuana strains that do not provide the mellow trip so eagerly sought by your garden-variety pot enthusiast.
“We know there are people who would like to be able to tap the medicinal benefits without the psychoactive elements. They view that as a nasty side effect,” Jeffrey said.
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