The vast list of applicants for one of up to 15 licenses to grow marijuana for medical purposes in Maryland includes at least two religious leaders, Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn and Pastor Gareth E. Murray.
Kahn is a longtime fixture in the District’s medical cannabis community, serving about 1,000 patients at the Takoma Wellness Center dispensary in the city’s northern tip.
Just about every day, he said, he has to turn away residents from nearby Maryland who are barred from the D.C. program. He has invested in a prospective Maryland growery called Rosebud Organics and has applied to open a second shop just across the border in Takoma Park.
“It’s too sad not being able to help,” Kahn said.
First ordained in 1981, Kahn left his active religious role to open the dispensary in the District after serving four Reform congregations in places including Australia and New Jersey. His early opinions on medical marijuana were shaped by watching parishioners manage AIDS symptoms by illegally using the drug.
Kahn is used to coming across people who are puzzled to find a rabbi in the medical marijuana business. But, he says, it should be no surprise.
Reform Judaism was among the first religious denominations to champion medical marijuana, in 2003. Today, the leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Agudath Yisrael political party serves as the country’s minister of health, overseeing a robust and well-established medical cannabis program.
“In the first chapter of the Bible, God creates plants and tells us that they are very good, and they are for our use,” Kahn said. “God has created these things for our benefit.”
Murray, an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring who served as a Democratic state lawmaker between 2003 and 2007, is a newcomer to the medical-marijuana industry.
He says his sermons have included modern-day takes on the tale of the prodigal son — replete with teetotaler warnings about young adults who befriend “Jim Beam” and “Mary Juana.”
But Murray also believes in the medicinal value of cannabis. After watching documentaries and hearing stories from friends about cancer patients using the drug to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, he joined a bid by a farmer from Southern Maryland to land a marijuana cultivation license — on the condition that the company was strictly medical.
“People look at medical marijuana a lot of times as the guy standing in the corner smoking a joint or getting high,” Murray said. “We need to educate people about the facts. And it’s not about getting high; it’s medical.”
Murray says the company, PhytaGenesis, had an amicable split with team members who hope to expand to recreational sales if Maryland lawmakers move to fully legalize the drug.
As the director of government and community affairs for PhytaGenesis, Murray helped arrange meetings with influential state lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). He has stayed active in politics since leaving the General Assembly, serving as legislative affairs director for the state higher education commission and working in government consulting.
“You got all these big folks coming in from out of state,” Murray said. “I want to help the small-business owners.”