By Aaron Potek

Last evening, about thirty alumni of select GatherDC experiences convened at the Takoma Wellness Center – a medical marijuana dispensary owned and run by a rabbi, Jeff Kahn. It is one of only 5 dispensaries in the District, and the only dispensary in the country run by a rabbi.

Along with his wife and son, Rabbi Kahn spoke about his personal transition from the rabbinate into this career, the health benefits of marijuana, the political and legal history of marijuana in America, and the connection between marijuana and Jewish values.

He shared an incredible amount of fascinating information – here are just a few “high”lights (I had to get one rabbi pun in there…):

1) Because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug and illegal according to federal law, their store can be raided at any time. While the Department of Justice did not enforce the federal ban on selling marijuana in places where it has been legalized for medical purposes under President Obama, it’s not clear if that will change under the current administration. And since the Feds are right here in DC, dispensaries here could be the first to be raided. The minimum prison sentence is 5 years.

2) The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that marijuana has no health benefits. While few studies about the health benefits of marijuana have been conducted in America as a result, Israel is actually leading the world in research in that field. The largest supplier of medical marijuana in Israel is called Tikun Olam. And the Israeli Minister of Health, who has advanced medical marijuana reforms, is an ultra-orthodox man from the Ger Hasidic Dynasty named Yaakov Litzman.

3) A 1998 initiative in Washington, DC allowing for the use of medical marijuana within the District passed with 69% of the vote. At that time, only the state of California had legalized medical marijuana (1996). However, the law was blocked by Congress until 2009. Between 2009 and 2014, only five medical conditions were covered under that DC law. Now it is available for any condition.

There is still a lot of stigma around marijuana, particularly in religious circles, but it was compelling to hear stories about the many people whose lives have been improved by this drug. As Rabbi Kahn said: “It’s not a commandment to suffer.” Over time, this stigma will hopefully decrease, as will people’s suffering.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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