Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN, and Eloise Theisen, NP
Written by Denise Gonzalez-Walker

We recently caught up with Stephanie Kahn, BSN, for her perspective as a cannabis nurse and Takoma Wellness Center medical dispensary co-founder. Stephanie shared her insights from leading Washington, D.C.’s longest running legal medical dispensary and what she wished every new cannabis patient knew before visiting a dispensary.

(Note: This blog post was edited on 9/9/21 to more accurately reflect Washington, D.C., cannabis regulations.)

Takoma Wellness Center’s logo is a blue hamsa with a red heart in the palm.
Stephanie Kahn in front of a wall displaying a large hamsa collection at Takoma Wellness Center.

Step into Leaf411 member Takoma Wellness Center medical cannabis dispensary in Washington, D.C., and the first thing you’ll notice is the hamsa, a hand-shaped design that is believed to offer protection and good fortune, that traces back to ancient Mesopotamia.

The hamsa symbol is fitting, given that it shares a long history that runs parallel with cannabis. The cannabis plant can also be tracked back thousands of years ago when it was used medicinally, including in Mesopotamia. The hamsa symbol also holds an important place in the Jewish culture shared by founders Stephanie Kahn, BSN, Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn and their son Joshua Kahn.

Front door of Takoma Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C.

With a background in healthcare and the spiritual community, the Kahns already had extensive experience helping patients before entering the cannabis industry. One cannot help but think of Takoma Wellness Center’s extensive hamsa collection as a symbol of their caring and hope for the patients who visit the store.

shopping tips

Navigating Washington, D.C.’s unique cannabis landscape

Takoma Wellness Center holds a unique spot as the oldest and longest running legal medical dispensary in Washington, D.C. While cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the plant is legally sold for medical use in the nation’s capital, and possession of small amounts for personal use has been decriminalized.

District residents also support adult use (recreational) cannabis; however, Washington, D.C., is unique in that it’s not a state but a district that is ultimately governed by the US Congress. So far, Congress has blocked the district’s efforts to create a legal adult use cannabis marketplace.

U.S. Capitol dome with U.S. flag flying in front in D.C., where medical cannabis is legal.

District of Columbia dispensary Takoma Wellness Center accepts out-of-state MMJ cards

Cannabis cannot cross state lines, but marijuana medical cards can in a few states as well as in Washington, D.C. Medical dispensaries in the district accept valid medical cards from any state with a legal medical cannabis program, when that person is visiting the district and buying medicine in-person. (Dispensaries are not allowed to deliver or ship product across state lines due to ongoing federal prohibition that regulates all interstate commerce.)

For Takoma Wellness Center which is located only a few blocks from the Maryland state line and approximately 10 miles from Virginia, this means that over 50% of their customers come from outside the district, mostly from neighboring states. As nearby state marketplaces evolve, however, the mix of patients continues to change.

“We used to get a lot of patients from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but as their own state programs have improved, there’s less need for their residents to travel to find cannabis medicine that works for their needs,” Stephanie says.

Of course, the capital is also a popular place for people from around the country to visit. For patients who are unable to bring their cannabis medicine with them when traveling, finding a trustworthy local source like Takoma Wellness Center can be a godsend.

Patient consultant stands next to Takoma Wellness Center’s cannabis flower display, ready to help patients with questions.

Building a medical dispensary around the needs of cannabis patients

Takoma Wellness Center was built around not only providing a wide range of products but also exceptional service to patients, with patient consultants (similar to budtenders) who spend time educating visitors on different options. That commitment has remained even during pandemic challenges.

“Prior to the pandemic, we would spend a lot of time with our patients. That all changed last year with restrictions and the need for social distancing,” Stephanie says.

“A lot of the changes were positive. We were allowed to implement online ordering, curbside service and delivery. The downside, though, was that we were not able to spend the same amount of time in store consulting with patients.”

In response, Takoma Wellness Center developed virtual consults and protocols for patients to check in outside, reducing the time most people needed to spend inside the store. Stephanie says that their relationship with Leaf411 has also helped, with Leaf hotline nurses who are able to guide patients on the phone while looking over Takoma Wellness Center’s extensive online menu.

Graphic with a quote from Katherine Golden, RN, Leaf411 CEO saying, “Based on the calls we receive from Takoma Wellness Center customers, we can tell that their staff really care about helping patients only purchase what they need, saving them money and reducing buyers remorse by providing resources like Leaf411.”

What are the top reasons patients turn to medical cannabis?

Takoma Wellness Center serves patients who are seeking alternatives for a wide range of conditions.

“Pain and anxiety top the list, when it comes to the information that patients share with us. We have patients visiting us who have autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lyme disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, fibromyalgia, cancer pain and chemo side effects, who are seeking relief,” Stephanie says.

“We also have a couple of pain doctors in the area who are suggesting cannabis as an alternative to opioids for some of their patients. In my mind, this is a very positive development,” Stephanie says, though she also acknowledges that many other pain clinics continue testing patients for THC, with positive THC tests disqualifying them from continuing with prescription-based pain medications.

Tips & Tricks

Advice for both new and experienced cannabis patients

Stephanie has spent years helping patients understand the ever-changing cannabis landscape, with Takoma Wellness Center’s product selection informed both by Stephanie’s cannabis nursing background and years of experience hearing from patients on what has worked best. She’s also seen common missteps that new patients make on their first dispensary visit and has some general advice to share.

“A lot of cannabis naïve patients come in wanting to try edibles first. However, we really encourage them to first try tinctures instead. It’s much easier to adjust your dose with tinctures, which is especially important if you’re starting low and going slow,” Stephanie says.

She also sees both new and experienced cannabis users missing out on the full potential of plant medicine when they only focus on finding the highest-THC products.

“Whether the patient has been buying on the street for 30 years or they’re new to cannabis, we often see them looking for the highest THC product when a ratio product containing a balance of THC and CBD might actually provide better relief,” Stephanie says. “Obviously we’re not going to force education on them, but we do encourage patients to explore different product types and often have discounts to make it easier to try new things.”

When trying new products, Stephanie suggests that patients resist the urge to “stock up,” since cannabis products cannot be returned to the store.

“We’ve had customers who are brand new to cannabis who want to buy a half-ounce of cannabis flower or an extra-strength tincture because they believe it will be better than regular strength. While we’re not going to deny them that purchase, we do try to educate them and explain what the problems they might encounter,” Stephanie says.

Stephanie as well as Takoma Wellness Center staff also suggest that patients start low and go slow, understanding that everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different.

“The dose that works best for your friend may either be not enough or way too much for you. The best way to find your ideal dose is to start low and go slow, building up to the dose that works for you,” Stephanie says.

Looking for the best local, family-owned D.C. dispensary with deep ties to the area?

Today’s patients and consumers have more options than ever when it comes to shopping for cannabis medicine. Many are eager to support local businesses that are making a difference and building a sustainable, equitable cannabis industry.

Takoma Wellness Center’s ties to the community run deep. Both of Stephanie’s parents grew up in Washington, D.C. within blocks of the medical dispensary’s current location. It was her parents’ experience using cannabis on doctors’ recommendations that inspired the Kahns to open a medical dispensary. As Stephanie says, “The story of medical cannabis in our city is personal to us—it’s also our family story.” (Read more about their story here.)

Stephanie is humble when it comes to ways the dispensary reinvests in the community. When asked, she shares that Takoma Wellness Center hires from the community, offering full health benefits, paid time off and above minimum wage pay. The dispensary has also participated in National Expungement Week and supports various community groups and programs.

Takoma Wellness Center has earned Washington City Paper’s Best of D.C. Best Dispensary award for five consecutive years thanks to its commitment to patients and the community, as well as its vast product selection.

Also, as a Leaf411 business member, Takoma Wellness Center also helps ensure that cannabis education is freely available to all patients, regardless of where they live.

Katherine Golden, Leaf411 founder and CEO/ED says, “Based on the calls we receive from Takoma Wellness Center customers, we can tell that their staff really care about helping patients only purchase what they need, saving them money and reducing buyers remorse by providing resources like Leaf411.”