The Rabbi of Pot Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn wants to be D.C.'s first legal medical-marijuana dealer. But first he has to navigate city regulators, well-financed competitors, and suspicious neighbors.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn spent 27 years teaching the Torah in shuls from central New Jersey to southern Australia. Lately, he’s been talking a lot about a passage from Leviticus, the part about not standing idle while your neighbor bleeds.

“This really is an important religious issue,” says the silver-haired 58-year-old, his wide smile punctuated by crescent-shaped dimples. “Especially because of how people have been suffering and the ways that drug laws have been used against Americans and especially against minorities...I think scripture is very clear that when we have the opportunity to help people, we must do it.”

Not to mention that bit about seed-bearing plants that God declared good and gave to all humanity.

The rabbi and his wife, Stephanie Kahn , 55, are competing to establish the District’s first city-sanctioned medical-marijuana operation. Call it Kosher Kush. It’s the culmination of a sort of mid-life crisis for the couple: After packing up their prior lives and making a pilgrimage to Israel, the store represents their unlikely next step—a mom ‘n’ pop pot shop. “We wanted to do something different,” says Stephanie Kahn, a nurse who made her career in hospital administration, “but still within the framework of trying to help people.”

Last month, the District officially joined 14 U.S. states in decriminalizing marijuana for people with certain qualifying conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. D.C. voters OK’d medical marijuana by more than 69 percent back in a 1998 referendum. But, for 12 years, Congress blocked the ballot initiative’s implementation. The ban was finally lifted last December. Since then, city officials have been busily working on a set of rules to regulate sales of what remains a federally classified Schedule I narcotic.

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Under the regs, D.C. will license up to five medical-marijuana dispensaries and 10 cultivation centers citywide. Though D.C.’s rules are probably stricter than anywhere else on the decriminalized-pot map, they nonetheless will open the nation’s capital to an industry that has ballooned into a billion-dollar business out in California. In fact, some well-established West Coast operators have proven eager to move into markets far from home. One of the Golden State’s largest purveyors, Berkeley Patients Group, recently spun off a Northeast affiliate that has snatched up half of the dispensary licenses in Maine.

So far, the Kahns are the first and only ones to go public with any specific D.C. plans. And if their idea is already a divisive topic in the city’s leafy Takoma neighborhood, it’s also a subject of great interest farther afield, where marijuana advocates and potential competitors see the couple as the proverbial canary in the coal mine—if that coal mine were outfitted with grow lights, hydroponics and a security apparatus to rival that of a Swiss bank.

“There’s always a first one,” says Allen St. Pierre , executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “More often than not in business, and in medical cannabis, they play the role of sacrificial lamb. They put the city council, the [advisory neighborhood commission], the regulators, through the rigors. As often is the case, they don’t come to it well capitalized, or with the kind of best-practices information they need from other places. And, if they lack those things, then it’s very hard from the time they begin the process, to the point of actually opening a dispensary, to it being a functional dispensary. That’s a very long path, generally speaking.”

Kahn, though, might be the best guinea pig local reformers could want. Until recently, he served as executive director of the D.C.-based nonprofit Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative. He enters the business almost as well versed on the issue of medical marijuana as he is on scripture.

“Jeffrey is blessed in the sense that he comes out of drug-policy reform,” says St. Pierre, who spotted the rabbi “near the front row, vigorously taking notes,” at a seminar on how to set up a dispensary during last year’s NORML conference. “And, at the same time, coming to this as a rabbi and invoking this sort of profound humanistic tone.”

The humanism might have helped more a few years back, before medical marijuana became a lucrative enterprise. These days, people would rather talk about money. “Even if they can call them nonprofits, the individuals, if these things are done correctly, will be paid pretty well,” notes St. Pierre. “In many cases, we’ve seen people make small fortunes. So, there’s that balance between what is altruism on one level and a standard money-making model on the other. In some ways, who could be better to straddle that line than a man of the clergy?”

Our Readers Say

Awesome story!! This is a business that will live up to the highest ethical and moral standards, and must be encouraged, because it will serve people who need it.
The amount of fear directed at cannabis simply is not justified. Decades of lies have convinced many with no personal or first hand experience to be phobic (fearful beyond reason) of it. Drugstores dispensing powerful drugs that are far more dangerous, that get abused, and that get resold are subject to this level of standards. It isn't necessary and it isn't fair.
Opponents of medical cannabis eagerly pile on every burdensome regulation they can think of. Does anybody in the ABRA/ABC know anything about cannabis? Other than being strict and stern enforcers of rules, What do they know, as far what makes sense and what is needed? And, do they know what is excessive? Do they know what isn't necessary?

The truth is that cannabis should be legal and regulated no more strictly than beer and wine at the most. Hopefully that is going to happen in the next 5-10 years. Prohibition is flawed bad policy. If it was effective good policy, alcohol would still be illegal and a distant memory.
This story makes me proud to be both Jewish and a Takoma resident.
Good story. The rabbi and his wife have no idea what they're doing. The fact that they were reaching out to one of the most reactionary ANCs way before any regulations were proposed by the city shows they don't know what they're doing.

My prediction: The ANC will strongly oppose it, they'll get Bowser to introduce some emergency legislation stopping it from coming to idyllic Takoma (see, her legislation on pawnshops), and the rabbi and his wife will have wasted months for nothing.

The Kuhns seem to be nice people, but they're way the heck out of their league when it comes to opening a medical pot store, or even just navigating the city's bureaucratic and political hurdles.
This Rabbi Kahn is a CONMAN! He has no idea what he's doing. Someone with more experience should be opening the dispensary instead of these two who openly admit they have no idea what they are doing in terms of cultivation, etc. Leave it to the professionals and stop you're blatant profiteering.
@anonymous ...hey anonymous, there are no professionals in DC. This article is about them trying to 'establish the District’s first city-sanctioned medical-marijuana operation.' Since one hasn't been established yet there are no 'professionals'. And a fair reading of the article doesn't make it appear that they're blatant profiteers. And what if they were? Do your 'real professionals' grow herb just for their own use or are they making some $ off of it? What's yr axe to grind? I bet yr just too lazy to try and start one up legitimately yrself.
The Rabbi and his wife are amazing, loving people - I feel blessed to have met them.

Good luck - and ignore 'anonymous' talkbackers.
Seems to me that someone working as a clergyman and a nurse for decades would have many skills that would be helpful in this kind of business. As "skizzle" said, there aren't any professionals in the city,....the only professionals would be from other states where medical marijuana is legal. And I'm sure they'll be applying for licenses too, as the article said. But these people live in the neighborhood in which they hope to open and seem to be very sincere. And they did say they would hire people if they did decide to cultivate.

To call Rabbi Kahn a conman is insulting since you have no idea who he is or any reason to doubt his sincerity. The need for medical marijuana is strong and I hope these people are successful. I wish them luck.
I wish the Rabbi the best of luck.The most knowledgeable in the market will rise to the top,retail,growing,security,thelaw should make for some very busy days,
Compassion must be pinicle for the sucess of a dispensary.

Jonathan M.
Did anyone else giggle at the text on the hypothetical perscription?
hehe Dr Shane Botwin

What are all the pot dealers going to do now that the Rabbi and his with are taking over the pot trade.
I really like the way Rabbi Jeffrey is going about marketing his product. It seems that too often 'medical' pot shops look more like liquor stores than pharmacies. I hope that his store gets approved. Maybe if people can start to view cannabis as a medicine rather than as a drug more of the undecided voters out there can be swayed.
The pot dealers in DC have nothing to worry about as far as competition goes since they still don't follow any regulations and can grow and sell as much pot as they want. Until marijuana is fully legalized drug dealers have no competition to worry about.
Good luck Rabbi!
Kol Hakavod. I live in Canada. I will tell you that this is a great thing. As a father of an ill child who can only get relief from constant pain and nausea caused by a terrible disease by using Marijuana...this is a blessing......I hope he is starting a new move amongst the clergy to go this way.
From the first day he was invested as Senior Rabbi at Temple Har Shalom in Warren, I said, "something is not kosher about this guy". Guess I was right!
The world is an awesome place! Rock on Pot Rav!
You question someones values - yet you hide as 'anonymous'. #hypocrite
I think the Kahn's are performing a real mitzvah, pushing to help sick people.
I hope many more people across the planet will learn from them!
The world is gradually coming to the realization that medicinal pot has more pros than cons. It's high time something is done on the matter! Good luck.
@GRAPHIC DESIGN DEPARTMENT AT THE WASHINGTON CITY PAPER: RE: graphic at bottom of article ----
It's a recommendation, not a prescription. Under current law no doctor can write a PRESCRIPTION for medical cannabis anywhere in the United States of America. Doctors can use their constitutionally protected freedom of speech to provide their a patient a RECOMMENDATION for medical cannabis in the District and states that allow it. See Conant v. Walters. The current graphic being displayed at the end of this article misrepresents the current District law, so please take it down or edit it as to enlighten your readers more than the cannabis will.
Will there be Kosher edibles if this gets launched?
Found an updated profile of the rabbi, check it out: http://bit.ly/gwKzC8
Would love to work for them in the further future
The Rabbi will be visiting Rockford.

classicalvalues.com/2013/04/update-rabbi-jeffrey-kahn/
Congratulations, Rabbi!
Please check out IdrasilRx.com
The Cannabis Pill...
Quality of Life, in a Pill.
Thanks!

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