By Amel Guettatfi
When Rabbi Kahn’s father-in-law was first hospitalized more than 50 years ago, Kahn says he experienced horrific pain. His father-in-law spent 5 decades with a progressive form of MS. While there was very little to do to curb the disease itself, they pursued many ways to ease the pain. Kahn’s father-in-law tried everything from meditation to snake venom to something that landed him a stint in rehab. But cannabis was never on the list, until a doctor in the 70s suggested it to him.
“It made an enormous difference for him.” Kahn says emphatically. “He was totally incapacitated, totally bed ridden” and spent nearly 40 years in a wheelchair but Kahn describes the pain relief caused by the occasional use of marijuana as immense.
Rabbi Kahn’s father-in-law passed away in 2005 but the pain relief he experienced with cannabis left a lasting impression on the Kahns. “We knew it was a good thing” Rabbi Kahn says, referring to his wife Stephanie, then a hospital administrator and himself. “This would be something that we believed in, because we knew it worked.” He continues.
So, in 2013 Jeff and Stephanie opened the Takoma Wellness Center, one of DC’s first medical marijuana dispensaries and perhaps only family-run one. Admittedly, Kahn says, “our backgrounds weren’t the typical ones for doing this sort of thing.” A Rabbi and a hospital administrator, hardly an image of hardened drug smugglers, still faced many challenges as they ventured into medical marijuana.
It was certainly a gamble, as the Kahns were initially misunderstood by many in the local community. As they were looking for locations to rent, one prospective landlord even asked them to leave once he knew their dope-induced intentions. Kahn recollects the incident with a smile punctuated by determination.
It took nearly two years for the Takoma Wellness Center to even open its doors. Rabbi Kahn calls it “bureaucracy of going thorough opening a business with a special twist”, a medical marijuana twist. At every impasse, there were doubts, as people pictured a Venice Beach head shop, with shady patrons and even shadier proprietors.
“People were afraid of marijuana, just in general.” Kahn explains that if people had a marijuana story, it was crime-related, associated with bad experiences with the law. He believes this was because “very few people believed that marijuana could be therapeutic.”
Rabbi Kahn says when they finally found a place to rent in Takoma, it was a derelict building with he calls “a history of unsavory activity.” He laughs. It’s hard to see that now, as we sit in the reception area, surrounded by scented sticks and soft-radio in the background.
Kahn and his family began with three patients and did not even have twenty by the end of the year. It was by no means an easy start. That is a far cry from the one hundred patients a day and the one thousand a year they now see.
Rabbi Kahn says they’ve been able to offer pain relief to many customers. “We quickly were able to grow from just telling my father-in-law’s story to knowing dozens and then hundreds and then a thousand stories.”
Above: Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn says knowing that bringing pain relief to so many customers grants him and his family a sense of satisfaction. Photo Credit: A. Guettatfi