WASHINGTON -- When you think of a rabbi, several words and phrases may come to mind, but "medical marijuana dispensary owner" is perhaps not one of them.
That, however, is exactly what former Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn is.
Kahn and his wife, Stephanie Reifkind Kahn, hope to open the Takoma Wellness Center after Memorial Day weekend. It would be the second licensed medical marijuana dispensary to open in the nation's capital since the D.C. Council voted to make pot legal for medicinal purposes in 2010.
The only thing they are waiting for, Jeffrey Kahn told The Huffington Post, is the go-ahead from the D.C. Department of Health. They've already passed a final inspection from the department.
Before he retired in 2007, Kahn spent time as a rabbi all over the United States, including New Jersey and Chicago, and as far away as Australia. He now attends synagogues around the Washington area and cites religious scripture to explain his new career.
"I think Scripture is very clear that when we have the opportunity to help people, we must do it," Kahn told the Washington City Paper in 2010, when he and his wife first set out to open a dispensary.
When the two decided to establish the Takoma Wellness Center, they were honoring Stephanie Kahn's late parents, who both had illnesses the side effects of which can be alleviated with cannabis.
Jules, her father, had multiple sclerosis and "sought physician after physician, always searching for some relief from the severe spasms caused by MS," Stephanie Kahn, who is a nurse, wrote on the dispensary website. But when his father-in-law finally tried marijuana, Jeffrey Kahn told City Paper, "he was amazed" by the relief it brought him.
Stephanie Kahn's mother, Libby, was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. "Chemo robbed her of her appetite, and she fought constant nausea. The physicians again recommended marijuana. She couldn't find it," Stephanie Kahn wrote.
The Kahns' dispensary will help some of those suffering from serious illnesses like Jules and Libby to find relief. Under the regulations the city adopted in 2010, only those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and conditions that cause severe muscle spasms, like multiple sclerosis, can obtain medical marijuana; they will need a recommendation from a doctor.
"The people who are coming to this dispensary are people who are really sick," Jeffrey Kahn told WRC-TV/NBC4 in April.
The Kahns are hoping to offer a strain of marijuana that provides the medical benefits of THC without the "high" feeling, they told The Jewish Week in April.
"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 Kahn said.
But that doesn't mean they won't offer other marijuana products and accessories that are often sold in dispensaries in the 19 states where medical pot is legal. The shop will sell vaporizers and even a machine that makes marijuana butter, which can be used in baked goods, in addition to literature about the politics surrounding medical marijuana, according to NBC4.
Throughout the process of getting their dispensary up and running, the Kahns' message has remained steady: They want to help sick people.
"Our ward [Ward 4] has the highest cancer rate in D.C. ... There's a need for our dispensary here," Jeffrey Kahn told the City Paper.
And as for how a retired rabbi, who moved from New Jersey to Israel in 2007, ended up where he is today, Kahn notes that you can't always predict your future.
"When I retired from my [last] congregation, it was the furthest thing in my mind that I would end up in D.C. selling marijuana," he told New Jersey Jewish News in 2010. "You just never know."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the illnesses that qualify a patient to obtain medical marijuana under D.C. rules. A person with any condition that causes severe muscle spasms, not just multiple sclerosis, may qualify.
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