What does social equity look like in the cannabis industry? How can companies work to repair damage caused by the war on drugs and address challenges pertaining to diversity, education, community, and sustainability?
Rabbi James Kahn is the executive director of Liberty Cannabis Cares. LCC is the social impact and corporate responsibility team at Holistic Industries, which is currently the largest privately-held cannabis company in the United States. He joined the company in 2017 and helped them open their first dispensary, Liberty Cannabis, in Rockville, MD, and then served as their National Director of Community Outreach. We saw him speak at the MJ Unpacked Conference last month, and his presentation was by far the one that left us most inspired.
Today, Rabbi James joins the podcast to share the remarkable story of how his family became cannabis advocates, why cannabis is a justice issue in religious communities, and the pillars of social justice that inform the transformative work that he’s doing.
- How Rabbi James’s grandfather’s MS diagnosis exposed him to medicinal cannabis at an early age, transformed his parents’ perception of cannabis, and led him to his current career.
- The rules surrounding kosher cannabis consumption–and the history of cannabis in religious rituals.
- What Rabbi James’s work looks like in practice–and the importance of raising up communities.
- The organizations LCC is partnering with to create opportunities and careers for people hurt most by the war on drugs.
- How Rabbi James is talking to his kids about sex and drugs, why these are two separate conversations, and why he’s a fan of an organization called Weed Can Wait.
“Telling kids about cannabis use, I think, it’s just essential. What I’ve focused on is that cannabis is great, it’s just not great for developing minds.” – Rabbi James Kahn
“Everyone has their issues. So, with physicians the issue was, well, there’s no dosage schedule. There’s no titration schedule. There’s no, take two and call me in the morning.” – Rabbi James Kahn
- Liberty Cannabis Cares
- Follow Rabbi James Kahn on LinkedIn
- Holistic Industries
- Takoma Wellness Center
- Veterans Initiative 22
- Minorities for Medical Marijuana
- Planet 13
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. We are back in the full autumn swing of New York living. Jeff is in the office today in New York and I’m at my home in Brooklyn. Hello, Jeffrey. How are you doing?
Jeffrey Boedges: Good. Good to be here. Train was full this morning. It’s feeling more and more like the world’s getting back to normal.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Kids are starting to get vaccinated from COVID. It’s all happening, man. Maybe this holiday season we’ll have dinner indoors with people that we don’t live with. That’s it. I mean, I don’t know. These are goals, people. What can we do?
Jeffrey Boedges: People we want to hang out with. Not with whom we have to hang out with.
Rick Kiley: I know, I know, I know. Anyway, we’re excited today to be joined by Rabbi James Kahn. He is the executive director of Liberty Cannabis Cares or LCC, which I’m probably going to start saying for short soon. It is the social impact and corporate responsibility team at Holistic Industries, which is I’m told currently the largest privately-held cannabis company in the United States. James joined Holistic in 2017, opening the company’s first retail dispensary, Liberty Cannabis, which is in Rockville, Maryland, then served as the National Director of Community Outreach, creating Holistic’s corporate responsibility platform, Liberty Cannabis Cares. Did I say cannadis again, by the way? I did. I do that sometimes.
Rabbi James Kahn: I heard cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. Cool.
Rabbi James Kahn: I think you’re okay, Rick.
Rick Kiley: So, they created this corporate responsibility platform around four central pillars: social equity, repairing damage caused by the war on drugs, diversity, education, and community service/philanthropy. Why not five central pillars? That’s just the first question.
Rabbi James Kahn: You know what, there is a fifth one, and I just haven’t – it’s part of next year’s plan. It’s sustainability.
Rick Kiley: Nice. That’s exciting. That’s what’s next. You’re answering like our third to last question first. But anyway, Rabbi.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think you need to get to 11 because that’s when you’re like, “Why not 11?” Eleven is better.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. Like, do you sell pillows?
Rick Kiley: Nice. Nice. Well, Rabbi James, welcome to The Green Repeal. Thanks so much for joining us.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Rick Kiley: Cool. So, can you start off? I’m told that you have a little interesting history. Can you talk about your family’s history with cannabis and how that helped you become connected with the industry? Would that be alright?
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. I’m happy to tell you. So, my family’s history with cannabis dates back before I even realized it. Actually, I remember being a kid in my staying home from school because I was sick. I got taken to my grandparents because my parents work during the day and I remember being in their basement, going through their crap because I was bored. And I found a bong, a graphics one. It has blue plastic, and I had no idea what it was at the time but now I know it’s a bong.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a lamp. That’s what I told my parents. It’s a lamp.
Rabbi James Kahn: It was among a few interesting things I found in their basement. But that was one of them, and I later kind of put it all together. But, yeah, and it was actually an interesting graphics bong because it had been altered because my grandfather had M.S. and he was diagnosed at 35. By the time he was my age, I’m 42, he was totally bed-bound, only basically paralyzed from the neck down. Minimal muscle control. So, when my grandmother went to work, which she had to do before, it’s a long story. It doesn’t matter. But when she went to work, she would use cannabis and because of some of his dexterity issues, of the shaking, they actually installed the bong, the water pipe onto the wall so that he didn’t actually hold it and he could just have his lighter and then light it. So, anyway, it was a weird-looking bong. That’s the earliest memory that I have connected to cannabis, but yeah.
Rick Kiley: That’s genius.
Jeffrey Boedges: It was a sconce bong. Not a lamp. It’s a sconce.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s a sconce. Yeah. Maybe that’s a future business.
Jeffrey Boedges: We only come up with new business ideas.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, all the time. Sorry. Trademark Green Repeal, sconce bong.
Rabbi James Kahn: You guys have that one. You guys take that. You know, it wasn’t like we were a cannabis-friendly family at that time. My mom at that time worked in a drug treatment center. She was a nurse. I remember clearly a bumper sticker on the back of our Ford Taurus station wagon that said, “Hugs, not drugs.” And you know, cannabis was a no, no.
Jeffrey Boedges: How old were your grandparents at the time your grandfather was pulling tubes?
Rabbi James Kahn: My grandparents, I mean, they must have been – my parents were in their forties, so they must have been in their early sixties. And that kind of transformed my family was my grandfather’s MS because it was so severe and we love this guy so much and he was struggling so much. And despite the fact that my parents were very public figures, my dad was a rabbi and he was the rabbi at a synagogue, a big synagogue in the community we lived in, and my mom worked at this drug treatment center, it wasn’t like cannabis was okay to talk about, and it was a just say no era, right?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: But the fact that it’s the only thing that really helped my grandfather. I mean, this was a guy during the 70s was so desperate. At one point, he injected snake venom trying to get relief and that’s how bad it got. And he had a whole period of his life where he was addicted to opiates. When I knew him, he was a sweet guy who had gotten through all of that. But his skin, I remember his skin was so smooth and rock hard from all the injections of Demerol that he had had. It’s just wild. So, the fact that that worked for us, that’s what changed my family’s life. And my parents basically were social justice warriors. And at that point, they turned their focus to the fact that my grandfather needed cannabis and couldn’t access it regularly. And so, it became an issue of justice for us of this is not okay. We got to do something about this.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. So, he was getting his med more or less on the illicit market, too. That predates…
Rabbi James Kahn: Oh, yes. It was an aide of his that was able to get it secured for him and he had that access for a while. But when that aide left, they were stuck. Actually, my grandfather, when I was 16, pulled me aside and my grandmother was in the kitchen and asked me to get him pot. He was the first person ever asked me to get him pot and I came through. I came through for grandpa.
Rick Kiley: Of course.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh man.
Rabbi James Kahn: I remember my grandma would go in the kitchen to sneak a cigarette and I would hold the pipe up to my grandpa’s face and hold. And my grandpa would take a puff, and that was what we did for a while until we all came out of the closet.
Jeffrey Boedges: Not a tiny one that would come home with a bag of oregano. I tried.
Rabbi James Kahn: No. I think this is the real deal.
Rick Kiley: It’s so interesting. I mean, two things. One, I hear that actually snake venom is a Schedule 2 drug only and cannabis is Schedule 1 so that’s kind of weird. But like we talk about a lot of people who are making careers in this now are people who have, I mean, not obviously that same story but growing up in the Just Say No era, but there was something in their lives that insulated them from all of that communication. And it’s always interesting to hear those stories but that does seem to be a very consistent thread because I keep saying this like it is so hard to pull that voice out of your head. Even now as like, I’m 47, I grew up in that era and I’m connected with this industry but every time you come across it, there’s still someone in the back of your head. You’re still like, “Oh, it’s a little bit wrong.”
Rabbi James Kahn: True.
Jeffrey Boedges: I still look both ways. I mean, we were at the cannabis conference in Las Vegas and I was like amongst every legal person on the planet and somebody offered me some and I was still was like..
Rick Kiley: It’s really interesting.
Rabbi James Kahn: Can I comment on that?
Rick Kiley: Yeah, please.
Rabbi James Kahn: So, two things. So, yeah, it was personal, and I think that once something becomes personal it’s the same thing with LGBT rights. You know, once it was your sister or your aunt or someone that you cared about and they came out as gay, then it was like that’s what changed people. I mean, I grew up in a family where that was never an issue but I think that’s what happens. Once it’s your dad, I talked to a guy this morning whose father has glioblastoma, like the worst type of brain cancer you can get, and he’s talking to me about RSO, and he can’t believe he’s even talking to me about this. But this is what he’ll do for his dad because it’s personal. So, the other thing I just wanted to mention is that, yeah, you’re right, the industry is full of people who have been touched personally by cannabis and who feel it in their what Jews would call their kishkes like in their guts. And that’s a big reason that I get to do what I do in the world of corporate social responsibility because it’s a unique reality.
I’m used to working in nonprofits, not a rabbi who’s worked in synagogues his whole career, but I’ve worked as a chaplain and running chaplaincy programs and work with social workers. I’m used to working with people for whom showing up in the morning in that job is an expression of their religiosity. It’s an expression of their deepest sense of who they are and cannabis is that too. And that’s pretty cool. People care. They’re not just doing marketing. They’re doing marketing for cannabis. And they know that cannabis is bringing relief to people who are struggling and suffering. I mean, that’s pretty amazing.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think it takes a bit of, dare I say, courage to be amongst the crowd that’s leading the charge against what’s such like a tidal wave of belief and misinformation. So, thank you.
Rabbi James Kahn: We’ve been doing it for a while so it’s gotten easier.
Rick Kiley: It’s getting less so.
Rabbi James Kahn: Decade ago.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, I’m curious, so you mentioned social justice and your parents and like that being a part of it. So, obviously, the experience of your grandfather and your family helped get you into the industry, but did you make a conscious effort to say, “I want to work in cannabis?” Did it happen by accident and then sort of were you brought in because of that specific interest around the industry itself? Has it always been like…
Rabbi James Kahn: I fought it, honestly. So, the continuation of the earlier story, my family became pretty I won’t say obsessed but pretty focused on cannabis and again around my grandparents. My grandmother then had cancer and really died less from the cancer and more from wasting away from not eating from the chemo treatments and cannabis would have been so helpful and was when we can get it to her. So, my dad left the pulpit, decided to focus on this cannabis stuff, and became the director of an organization called the Interfaith Drug Policy Alliance. And it basically was an organization that pulled together interfaith clergy around progressive drug policy, supporting treatment over incarceration, ending mandatory minimums, that sort of stuff. And so, he was kind of getting into that and really focused on that just as DC’s moratorium. DC voters many, many years ago voted for medical cannabis. Congress has this weird thing called home rule, where DC doesn’t actually get to decide how its own budget is spent. It has to get approved by Congress so someone in Arkansas can have a say over what happens in DC.
And so, DC had a 10-year moratorium put on their medical cannabis law that the voters voted in. And so, that expired under Obama and a Democratic Congress. Then one day DC out of the blue just has medical cannabis. And it was just at that moment that my family was kind of diving deep into this and we just happened to – my parents sold their house actually in Israel and had a couple of bucks and decided they would be crazy enough to start a dispensary. They’re one of the few mom-and-pop dispensaries out there that still exist that they run a place called Takoma Wellness Center. It’s the first dispensary in D.C. and they really created this shop around my grandfather, kind of the vision of like a place that he would go to, recognizing that not everybody is comfortable in a head shop kind of space. And they wanted a space that a guy who was a military veteran, pretty buttoned-up would feel comfortable and would help challenge some of the stereotypes around cannabis.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, what would that look like? Can you give us a little bit of a verbal picture of it?
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. So, what does that look like? Well, when you walk in, the first thing you see is a picture of my grandparents on the wall. We tell the story of how cannabis transformed his life. But it also looks like having a heavy focus on medical education. So, my mom’s a nurse. She developed an entire kind of curriculum. This was back in the day when it didn’t…
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. When there was no terpene sophistication.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. Trichome Institute and all this type didn’t exist yet. And so, she did that. And so, all of our staff at Tacoma very, very much have to learn cannabis before they start selling cannabis and they don’t just start out day one as a budtender. There’s really a process of education and it’s just very personal there. It’s kind of hard to put my finger on why they’ve been so successful because I think a lot about it because I work with Holistic Industries that is a large MSO, also incredibly successful. But MSOs kind of verse the independent shops, the mom and pops. And sometimes the mom and pops have a leg up on them because they really are dialing it into a specific community and they have a singular voice that just speaks to that community. They don’t need to have a voice that works in Detroit and that works in Miami and San Francisco, in some small town in Columbia, Missouri. So, I think I got a little bit off track.
Jeffrey Boedges: No. It’s an interesting sidetrack.
Rabbi James Kahn: My family business, the family, the whole family ended up doing this business of selling cannabis. And my brother, my mother, my father, and my wife all worked in this company. So, they wanted me to join them and I was, A, at the time a little bit embarrassed. I mean, honestly, this again, going to Jeff’s point. It’s like, “What? I had to tell people they sell cannabis for a living?” But I got over it. You know, I saw that cannabis is medicine, and it’s not just the cheeky way to get people okay with being stoned. And I saw that I went into the rabbinate to help people. I mean, that’s the bottom line. I want to be of service and selling cannabis and getting increasing access to cannabis and helping normalize it is in my experience really helping people. And it’s a lower barrier. You don’t need to learn Hebrew. You don’t need to show up at synagogue, right? I realized I could probably help a lot of people this way.
Jeffrey Boedges: I was going to ask you, did your parents do any like special sort of formulations that were more – what’s the rule in Judaism?
Rabbi James Kahn: Kosher?
Jeffrey Boedges: Cannabis kosher. Is it kosher?
Rabbi James Kahn: Cannabis is kosher. Yes. Actually, it is. How you consume it is another question. You don’t want to do any damage to your body.
Rick Kiley: Can’t light a joint on Shabbat. You can’t do that.
Rabbi James Kahn: No. You can create fire on the Sabbath. But you can do almost anything in Judaism if it’s for your health and if it’s life-preserving. You can violate almost any law even like eating on Yom Kippur, if it’s for your health, if it relieves suffering. And so, cannabis in that sense is very much kosher. Israel has been a beacon of cannabis research. I mean, THC was discovered by a professor named Professor Mechoulam out of Hebrew University in Tel Aviv. Israel is a pretty amazing place when it comes to cannabis. The biggest farm there is called Tikkun Olam, which actually means healing the world.
Rick Kiley: Repair the Earth.
Rabbi James Kahn: Repairing the world. Yeah. So, it’s pretty cool. I’m pretty excited about that.
Rick Kiley: Cool. So, since we’re talking about it, let’s keep talking about it because as any good Jewish young man who follows in his father’s footsteps in the long line of rabbis who open cannabis dispensaries, you’re continuing the tradition. But you are the first person that we’ve spoken to in cannabis who has a theological title. And I think I want to just expound on that. You know, my wife is Israeli and I have two kids who are twins who are 11-and-a-half and they’re beginning the mitzvah study and like that whole process is starting. But I’m curious, just your connective tissue, which you just started on between rabbinical work and the world of cannabis and just curious this view, you want to talk about that. I find it really interesting because I think if you would ask somebody who was a member of the clergy 30 years ago, how they felt about it, it might be a different answer than today. And I think maybe even today is a different answer in a lot of places so I’m just curious.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think what I want to know is, does unleavened bread taste better when you’re stoned?
Rabbi James Kahn: I think everything tastes better when you’re stoned.
Rick Kiley: Matzo’s rough on either way.
Rabbi James Kahn: I’m not sure it saves it, but certainly it doesn’t help dry mouth.
Rick Kiley: Actually, gluten-free matzo has actually helped improve it so that’s the good matzo now.
Rabbi James Kahn: Try that. I’m going to try that. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to say. Thirty years ago, I still think that we haven’t yet succeeded at really making cannabis and access to cannabis an issue of justice in religious communities. I think there’s a lot of work still to be done. People just still kind of smile and wink and think it’s cute, but it’s not cute. If you look at issues of over enforcement of cannabis laws, if you look at the fact that black folks are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than white folks despite equal use patterns. And when you think that 70,000 people will likely die in 2021 because of opiate overdose and the fact that cannabis has been shown over and over to be effective at relieving pain and that states that implement medical cannabis programs typically see a significant drop in the number of opiate-related scripts and opiate overdoses. So, for Judaism, which really is a religion that values life above all else, there’s a teaching in Jewish tradition that every life is a universe unto itself, is a world unto itself. So, even saving one life, it’s like saving the entire world. We know cannabis is saving lives.
You know, 22 veterans will die today, most likely because of suicide from PTSD. This is an event we’re talking today on Veterans Day. That we know beyond a doubt that cannabis helps those folks and there will be some veteran who doesn’t suffer to the degree that he or she feels like they need to commit suicide because cannabis has helped them through that. So, this is an issue that should be at the front lines of every religious community. You know, expungement, ensuring access, safe access to high-quality cannabis is an issue that I truly believe should be talked about in mosques, in churches and in synagogues, and every other religion, I can’t think of the name of their… But anyway, that’s one piece of it. The other thing that I think is really profoundly interesting and exciting to me about this question comes from some research that just came out last year that you may have heard about out of an archeological site in Israel called Tel Arad. Tel Arad, I think it’s near Be’er Sheva or it’s in the southern part of Israel. It’s in the desert. And basically, it’s an archeological site that they’ve been digging there since the 60s. And it’s basically a mini version of the temple in Jerusalem.
So, back in the day, Jews did not go to synagogue. Synagogues relatively they represent an evolution in Jewish life. That wasn’t the way it was always. So, it used to be that if you were living in ancient Israel and you want to celebrate a holiday, you would go to your neighbors and you would pull some money and you buy a goat and you take the goat to the temple and you’d have a priest sacrifice that goat and that sacrifice, the Hebrew word for sacrifice actually means to become a closer, and it’s to connect. It basically connects humanity and the smoke rises up and goes to the heavens, right? So, that’s the idea. So, the center of Jewish life is the temple. So, there’s this temple in Tel Arad that mimics the temple in Jerusalem, the most important site for Jews and for Christians and Muslims. At the center of this temple is it’s like a series of concentric rooms. Within each room, it gets holier and holier space. And at the center is the holy of holies, the holiest space of all, which is only entered once a year at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the priest would go in. It was a big deal. And outside the holy of holies were two altars and for a long time, we’ve known that something was burned on those altars, but we didn’t know what was burned on it.
And they may have known this for a while, but recent chemical analysis, the technology has gotten so good that they can actually analyze the soot and the resin that’s on those altars. And what did they find in addition to frankincense and all that sort of stuff? They found clear high amounts of THC and CBD that had been mixed with cow dung to allow it to burn slower and at low enough temperature that would have produced aromatic fumes that would have gotten everybody pretty high.
Rick Kiley: The original hot box.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s pretty amazing. I mean, this is not just some far-fetched interpretation. This is at the heart of the Jewish western religious tradition.
Jeffrey Boedges: By going to the first Allman Brothers show.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s mind-blowing. I mean, cannabis has been part of religious ritual for a long time. I’ll stop. One last comment here but the earliest known evidence of smoked cannabis dates back to 2500 BCE to a cemetery in what was then like ancient China. And the archeologist dug up a burial site and what did they find within? They found bowls, slotted bowls with cannabis inside with hot rocks, and the mourners would carry these bowls and they would hold them as the smoke came out. I’m not exactly sure what the ritual was. I don’t know if we know, but it was part of mourning and part of religious tradition and has been for thousands of years. So, that’s what I have to say.
Rick Kiley: That’s great stuff. Great stuff.
Rabbi James Kahn: Certainly kosher.
Rick Kiley: Extremely kosher. That’s great.
Jeffrey Boedges: Which I think is if I look at the role that religion plays in politics in the United States, especially, it definitely tends to push more to the conservative side. And I think conservatives are definitely not on the social justice train just yet.
Rabbi James Kahn: And unfortunately, it’s become politicized. And now culture is somehow, yeah, it’s like a bad thing, which is really sad. Cannabis transcends those divisions, right?
Rick Kiley: I hope so.
Rabbi James Kahn: It may not yet politically as far as representatives. I think there are still some issues. But for example, in Virginia, there was recently the high profile election, right, which the Republican won, which probably set back Virginia’s rec program for years.
Jeffrey Boedges: At least four.
Rabbi James Kahn: Right. It’s really upsetting. But what’s crazy is that 67% of Virginia citizens want cannabis, have voted for it, and they’re supportive of it. So, it’s politicians. The people, republicans or democrats, overwhelmingly support cannabis.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, Virginia is also like the former center of the US tobacco market. I can see why they wouldn’t mind having another crop that they can spring up.
Rabbi James Kahn: Interesting. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, politicians like money. So, when there’s money to play in here that people get different arguments happening. So, look, we could talk about, honestly, you’re right. I think we could have like 10,000 conversations about theology and cannabis and I think it’s great. But I do want to be able to talk about your role at Holistic and I really want to talk about the panel that you were on. Part of the reason we wanted to have you here is because we sat in on the panel at the MJ Unpacked Conference last month. You were on a panel, spoke about social justice and equity, and I think Jeff and I both agreed, of all the content that we were exposed to, that was the one I walked out with most inspired and I really liked the presentation and the content that you shared. So, I really would love it if you could just take a minute to provide a little overview of the responsibility platform, those four pillars, five pillars, soon to be 11 pillars, and your approach to social justice in this issue because that was the first reason why we wanted you here.
Rabbi James Kahn: Thanks for the compliment. I will share it with the folks I was on a panel with.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Everybody was great. I mean, I love it.
Rabbi James Kahn: Really, it was an honor to be invited and to sit next to those folks. So, the panel was about, I forgot the exact title, but it was like thinking outside your doors and the importance of engaging the community. But it really became a conversation about social equity and diversity and kind of the obligation that some of us feel in the industry to ensure that we are helping repair some of the damage wrought by the war on drugs and by cannabis prohibition. I mean, the fact that what I do for a living everyday people are sitting in jail for is deeply troubling to me and to a number of people in the cannabis industry. So, the panel is really broader than that. It was meant to be about just how we engage our communities and I think that’s critical for any cannabis. Especially for an MSO like Holistic, we come into a community and you don’t know us. We’re not locals. So, we have to earn our local channel. We have to earn our customers and earn our rights as a local business, and we try. That’s our angle. We don’t want to be a big – I think it’s actually a reality that comes out of cannabis being illegal for so long. You kind of relied on your dealer, right?
So, if you were a cannabis user before cannabis was legalized or before you got a medical card, you had a dealer and you trusted that person not to get you in jail. Not to set you up, not to just rip you off and take your money. There was a lot of trust involved in the illicit market. And as we’ve kind of expanded into the legal, regulated cannabis, I think that sort of authenticity, I think people still hunger for that sort of trust and comfort and authenticity and they want to feel that in their stores. So, my work at Holistic is in part to localize us in each and every community that we go into. So, how do we do that? You know, we don’t have a singular recipe. I use my background in community organizing. We really lean heavily on our staff who are locals to tell us who are the people in this community, who are the key players, what are the favorite restaurants, what’s keeping people up at night, what are the challenges that everyone is facing. And we look for places that overlap with our own values and maybe organizations or companies that we share, maybe their similar demographics that we’re going after. We look for partners that we can support.
So, a good example in Maryland where I’m based, for Veterans Day this year we partnered with an organization called Veterans Initiative 22, which basically is an advocacy organization trying to get all dispensaries to give a 22% discount to veterans. The number 22 has meaning because, as I mentioned earlier, on average, 22 veterans die from suicide every day in this country. So, we wanted to raise awareness of that fact and we wanted to get some money to these guys. So, across the country, we did a 22% off today and then, in addition, we have a strain in Maryland called Wounded Warrior. It’s a phenomenal strain of cannabis and a portion of every sale of that goes to this initiative. And it was great. It actually got covered. We’re hoping at least that it looks like we’re going to be in the January edition of High Times Magazine and it’ll be a whole cover story on it. So, it can really serve companies to do this. It’s both altruistic and it is good business, which I’ve come to believe is the key to success. I really believe in social entrepreneurism where there’s value on both sides. I worked in nonprofits for many years, and I find it more effective when I know that what I’m doing is going to be beneficial to my company and to another organization.
So, that’s part of what I do at Holistic is I help localize us in each of these communities and I work with our staff. As I said before, cannabis staff are unique, I think, because they care, because they’re there, because they’re passionate. And so, I really try to leverage that. And I think every cannabis company out there should. Leverage your staff. They’re not there because they’re excited to make the next viral app or because they love retail. You know, they’re not spending their days in a windowless room with artificial lights on them for 12-hour shifts because they love artificial lighting. They’re there because they’re trying to help relieve suffering in the world. My job is to reflect that back to them as a way of creating culture within the organization, as a way of lifting people up, and tell that story, give them credit for the work that they’re doing and then go into the communities and find partners that we can raise up. So, as you mentioned, there’s like four pillars to the work that we do. These are just kind of focal points that we use to make sure that we don’t get too lost. I have ADD so I could go off on a tangent and get stuck there.
So, we try to make sure that everything that we do, you can draw a line back to one of these pillars. Cannabis education is a key one as a way of kind of fighting stigma. If you want to fight stigma and ignorance, we got to educate folks. And just talking about it is what I’ve done my whole career is talking about things that otherwise make people uncomfortable. You know, in social services, I would talk about divorce, talk about adultery, talk about losing a child, the things that happen in life and that – sorry. My neighbor saying hi. Hi, neighbor. Things that happen in life and that we often just don’t talk about. So, cannabis is one of those and I’m talking about it.
Rick Kiley: That’s great.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, can I ask you just like so you talk about raising the community. And I think probably for us, as experiential marketers and we’re always like, “How do we reach the people we need to talk to? How do we make sure we’re not talking to ourselves?” And I think as one of the things that Rick and I have been sort of discussing among ourselves when we go to these conferences is that people that are there were all united by the plant. We’ve all drank the Kool-Aid or we’ve all smoked the bowl, whatever metaphor you want to use. But the people who really need to really be converted really need to open their mind to this greater population. It’s the other 85% of the population who don’t, at the present time, embrace cannabis. So, I’m just kind of curious, are there things specific that you’re doing to go beyond talking to ourselves?
Rabbi James Kahn: So, there are levels of embracing. I mean, there’s educate. So, I do a lot of work with retirement communities, going to the people.
Jeffrey Boedges: Back to your roots.
Rabbi James Kahn: We have a great one. Yeah, right. Going back to my grandpa.
Rick Kiley: Selling sconces. We had to sell some bong sconces that they need them there.
Rabbi James Kahn: They love them. They love them a good deal. I mean, prior to COVID, we had a number of different even assisted living facilities that would drive a bus over on a biweekly basis and drop patients off for an hour, and we do an educational component, and then we would…
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s such a fabulous idea. Just embracing it as a retirement community is a great idea.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. Senior Sundays. Because when that challenges and a lot of these programs is registering online, which for me, it’s been so easy and simple, and I’m grateful that it’s online. But for some folks, it scares the crap out of them and it’s a deal-breaker. So, we would actually help. If you came in on a Sunday, we would help you register. We’ll take your picture. We do it all. So, going out to these communities, actually partnering, I started going to hospices in the community and speaking to the doctors and trying to find out what was keeping them. Everyone has their issues, so trying to find out what people’s issues are. So, with physicians the issue was, well, there’s no dosage schedule. There’s no titration schedule. There’s no like take two and call me in the morning.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s imprecise. Not that medical business is very precise but they like to think it is.
Rabbi James Kahn: But they like to be able to know like there’s a specific dose.
Rick Kiley: There’s an amount that’s too much. You need to know these things.
Rabbi James Kahn: So, Holistics actually I started talking about this and people within the company started listening and we were developing a product with the titration schedule. It’s called Cannaceutica and we’re actually partnered with the University of California, Irvine to do basically an IRB-approved study. You know, the real deal that Western doctors will understand and will respect and really trying, because we know cannabis works for pain. We know it but we have to show people in the ways that will help them come to us to see it. So, yeah, so we address. So, I go to Leisure World. I go to the old-age homes, to hospices, to all these folks. But there’s also the level of working in the industry. And one of our pillars is diversity, and we want to see these quality jobs helping build up communities that we’re in a lot of ways overpoliced or other ways damaged by the cannabis prohibition or the war on drugs. So, there’s too few black folks in high-level positions in the cannabis world. And so, I’m trying to change that. One of the ways in trying to change that – and there’s a lot of people trying to change that. It’s certainly not my idea.
But working with Minorities for Medical Marijuana, which is an organization. We’re working with some of these big players. There’s a great organization we partnered with this year called the Cannabis Equity Initiative, which is aimed at bringing cannabis education and leaders of the industry to different HBCUs, which are historically black colleges and universities. And so, by becoming part of this initiative, we’re basically gaining access to 25 different HBCUs and we’re partnering with other MSOs and with other cannabis companies, and we’re going to speak at these colleges and we’re talking about the jobs that are available and about the impact and how exciting, how big the industry is and how much it’s growing. And we’re actually conducting interviews on-site at these schools to really find talent and create a pipeline between the black community and the companies that are hiring right now. You know, sometimes that means going to an HBCU. Right now, like a lot of our jobs, you have to follow LinkedIn or go on Indeed. Not everybody does that. So, we’re actually going into the communities.
We did a project in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, a couple of months ago for Black Cannabis Week, where we went to I think it was Trinity University and we had folks there helping people write resumes and doing headshots and a seminar on LinkedIn and, again, doing interviews. So, we’re going out into the community and finding people where they are. That’s a big part of it.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve talked about some of the university stuff on an earlier episode or two. And I think one of the things that it’s funny, even like our industry, Experiential Marketing, is 20, 30 years old now. And when I first got into it, no one knew what it is. I don’t think my parents really still understand what I do for a living. And even now there are very few, if actually say it, but there are very few universities that are offering a curriculum designed to set people up for success in our industry. I got to imagine cannabis from everybody, from growers to people who know how to build brands in that space. I mean, no one’s prepping college-age students for a role in that world. So, you’re kind of begging, you’re not begging around, but you’re definitely taking people from really diverse backgrounds and training them on the industry.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah, I actually think it’s one of the strengths, though. If the companies, at least at Holistic, I think we’ve done that well where we’ve recognized that, yeah, no one’s coming out of college. Colleges aren’t pumping out cannabis PhDs.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, they are. They’re pumping out a lot of experts.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. They’re not getting formal degrees, but they are starting to.
Jeffrey Boedges: Rick went to our pot college.
Rick Kiley: No, it’s fine. Yeah. Ph.D. stands for something else. It’s like…
Rabbi James Kahn: Pot, hash…
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Pot hash distributor.
Rick Kiley: Exactly. There you go.
Rabbi James Kahn: But, yeah, I think drawing on people with experience in different industries has been one of the things that’s really given us an advantage. And, I mean, look, they hired a rabbi. You know, my expertise is in relationships and working with people in that.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, that’s what I thought you were going to say when I was talking about how do we get out there and talk to people that aren’t ourselves going back to the idea that a lot of traditional, more traditional faith-based companies are more conservative. And I’m just wondering, and you talked a little bit earlier about interfaith and about how we go about that. I was just wondering if that was like something that there’s an untapped area to go to priests and preachers.
Rabbi James Kahn: I definitely do it. You know, I’m only one person but actually, at MJ Unpacked, I met a few. There were two guys who run a dispensary outside of San Francisco, and they’re Palestinian Americans, and they were talking to me about cannabis in Israel and potentially its role in helping. We were just joking about the importance of instead of dropping propaganda, dropping joints.
Jeffrey Boedges: I like that idea.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s a joke, but it might actually be helpful.
Rick Kiley: I think that’s a movie. That’s a movie script right there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Harold and Kumar Save the Middle East.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. I think it’s…
Rick Kiley: Copyright trademark, Green Repeal 2021.
Rabbi James Kahn: At least hire me for one of the acting gigs.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sure. You got a starring role, man. You might be directing
Rabbi James Kahn: The ADD I can’t direct. I’m a better supporting actor, but every chance I get, it’s kind of pushing past the discomfort of announcing to the world that I use cannabis and just being real and just saying I can be a good dad. I’m a dad with kids and I use cannabis and I am a rabbi. And I sit with people who are sitting and I use cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You’re setting me up for this question that I wanted to ask you. And luckily, you ticked off like four answers to questions like through that. And I just want a couple of quick remarks, just like there’s a huge labor issue going on in this country right now and we find it hard to hire people. I’ve heard not just about cannabis but especially when people are looking to add diversity to their workforce, for instance, that only certain types of people are looking for jobs on Indeed, and that’s not necessarily the people that represent the diversity of America. And so, I love the work that you guys have done to establish relationships with the historically black colleges and universities. I think it’s really great. And frankly, it’s something that Jeff and I are talking about emulating. We’re like, “How do we go develop relationships with these colleges? How do we get on the campus? How do we start thinking about doing that more proactively?” And I think I keep saying this over and over again, and I really think cannabis is in a unique position to be really leading other industries in this regard. And I think it’s really cool to see.
So, just thank you for those efforts, and I think that’s great. But you’re bringing up something that’s near and dear to my heart. And we’re close enough to the same age. I’m just going to say I’m in my forties and both as a father, which I didn’t really know until you said it, and as a rabbi, I’m sure you’ve talked to kids and that’s like part of the gig. And one thing that Jeff and I talk about and I talk about with other people who are my contemporaries is how do we speak to our kids about it in 2021? Like, when I grew up in the 80s, it was, “This is your brain on drugs,” and I tell this story many times in this podcast. I was part in my high school of like this what’s called a peer awareness counseling group, whereas as the junior and senior we advised freshmen on like the hard things about high school and we went through a training where they like through weed and heroin and cocaine and crack up on a screen and like, “Which is the worst drug?” And we’re all like, “Heroin.” They’re like, “Nope. It’s marijuana.” And you’re like, “What the f*ck?”
So, like, that’s what I was told when I was in junior high school. So, 1987, okay, and like now, we’re at the age where it’s like it’s being normalized. You walk around the streets in New York, we’re in Brooklyn, where my kids live, like they walk five minutes from my door and they smell it all over the place. You walk up and down the streets and it’s everywhere. Jeff’s giving me the evil eye.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: It’s just everywhere.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. You never make them leave the house.
Rabbi James Kahn: No, I’m with you.
Rick Kiley: And so, just the question is like and it’s not one we have an answer to. I just think it’s a conversation that needs to probably keep happening over and over and over again. But do you have any advice around these conversations for parents or do you have any thoughts? Do you find anything that’s been successful in sort of talking to your kids about it in a way that, I guess, as normal as you would talk about like I’m just going to say because we’re in the industry also talking about like alcohol. It’s like I’m having wine. I have wine with dinner or I have a whiskey after dinner or I have a beer when I do this. It feels like it’s probably something that needs to get to that point of normalization. But I’m reluctant to speak about it. I’ll just say it. You know, I’m reluctant to enter into those conversations.
Rabbi James Kahn: Honestly, me too. It’s up there. It’s like sex talk with your kids. It’s just uncomfortable. We present a version of ourselves to our kids that is – what’s the word? Sanitized.
Jeffrey Boedges: Whitewash? It’s bleached.
Rabbi James Kahn: And I think I’m not sure that’s a great thing, honestly. I think that this is maybe what an important societal moment of growth for us of kind of like wackiness on the back of the head and saying maybe that’s not the best way to parent. But I honestly certainly find it very hard to talk about this stuff with my kids, but I still do. And it’s same with sex, still do. And so, here’s what I do. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% honest. I found especially around the issue of smoking, especially for young kids to be able to distinguish between – we’ve made it so clear that cigarettes are so damn dangerous. My kids have a grandmother who died because she smoked and she had lung cancer. They know how dangerous smoking is. So, to hear that dad smokes something is I think it’s really hard for young kids to understand that there’s a difference and cannabis has not been shown to cause cancer and doesn’t have shown. So, that’s a challenge. However, telling kids about cannabis use, I think, it’s just essential. And what I’ve done is, first, I’ve separated it from the sex talk. You know, I separate them.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s good. There’s no longer sex and drugs.
Rick Kiley: Oh, you don’t have to do both at the same time?
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah. We talk about both separately. And what I’ve focused on is that cannabis is great. It’s just not great for developing minds. And you want to give yourself the best. Life hands you playing cards. You don’t know what cards you’re going to get, but you want to play the hand you got to the best of your ability. I’m not the tallest guy in the world. Jews are not known for being incredibly tall basketball players. And so, I’m looking at height for my child who’s already feeling conscious of being shorter than other kids. And I find out that only 60% to 80% of height is based on genetics. The rest is based on nutrition and exercise and sleep. You’ve got to give yourself the best shot to have the best life you can. So, that’s really kind of resonated with my kids that cannabis is great, just not yet. There’s a great campaign. I wish I could give credit to them but if anyone googles, they’ll find it. It’s called Weed Can Wait. And I love it because it’s not saying weed is bad. It’s just saying not yet. Give yourself, give your mind the best shot it has at developing. Wait until at least you’re in college. And I think it’s resonated. I mean, we’ll see.
I’ve got a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old, but we’ll see how long they last before using cannabis. But I think that we have a shot and I think you’ve got to talk about it and let them know they can use as much cannabis as they want, the whole world, go for it. Just wait. Yeah. Put it on the list of things. They can drive as much as they want, but not at 10. You know, it’s just not the right moment.
Rick Kiley: It’s a good perspective. I like it. Yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: It’s what I got at the moment but look up the Weed Can Wait campaign, especially as marketers.
Jeffrey Boedges: It sounds a little bit like an after-school thing or like a Schoolhouse Rock thing. I think there’s a song we need to write there. Yeah. We can wait.
Rabbi James Kahn: It was developed by us, a group that just as I think educational…
Jeffrey Boedges: I can kind of see Elmo singing that song. Or just me?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. There’s lots of things that you can do right away. You can go for a ride. You can jump in the hay.
Jeffrey Boedges: You can roll for. That’s our – roll in the hay.
Rick Kiley: You said to separate the sex talk. That’s what we were doing.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, no, no. Well, yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: And then they get the– and I also just think it’s funny because the more they know that dad and mom like weed, like cannabis, the more it takes any sort of excitement away from it. And it’s like, I think they’re less…
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that I agree with. I think I’m still unclear as to sort of how to be okay with disclosing personal usage, right? And, it’s funny because…
Jeffrey Boedges: Are you talking about the conversation where they say, “Did you smoke pot in high school?” And you say…
Rick Kiley: No, no, no, no, that one, I have no problem. I’m totally honest with my kids. If they ask me about my former drug use, I will tell them. But I think it’s the question of like, here’s my thought, and we’re not going to solve this, and we’re coming to the end of our time, but like we have a rabbi here, we go through holidays. Wine is intertwined with ritual, like it’s part of our lives. It’s so accepted, that it’s not abnormal. You do that in front of your kids. I mean, and there are even cultures that are like, you go to France, and younger kids get a little bit of wine until they get used to it.
We’re nowhere near that right now in cannabis. Dad’s not sparking up a doobie at the dinner table. We’re not passing it around at Thanksgiving that– if there’s a wall sconce bong, people are telling kids that it’s the light, like, and…
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s in the garage.
Rick Kiley: So, I’m curious as to, and we may be a generation or two away, I don’t know, but it feels like there’s a point where ritualistic acceptance into a place where kids could be running around at your feet while you’re still hanging out at the dinner table or in these sort of family environments feels a long way away from that. And I think I find that tension. I won’t say hypocritical, it’s uncomfortable, I think.
Rabbi James Kahn: You know, it is interesting, though, the folks I do know, and a lot of people, just base that because of the industry that I’m in, who are open about their cannabis use with their kids, wide open. I mean, just like their kids will tell, “Mom, you need to go medicate.” And if my kids knew that that’s what helps mom be in a better mood, they would say the same thing.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Rabbi James Kahn: And what’s amazing is that in every case I’m thinking of right now, I’m thinking of like at least a dozen people I know that are just totally open, totally open. The kids are fine.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Rabbi James Kahn: They actually can handle it just fine.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: And the uptightness, I think, is probably still a remnant of our own anxiety. Look, for so long, I mean, for those of us, again, who used cannabis prior to it being 100%– and it’s still not 100% legal, right? It’s federally, we still have challenges. But back, we’re so used to hiding, we hide it. And so, we’re in this transition, this transitory, or this traditional, it’s like a liminal time, this in-between state of where we still have one foot in the 80s of just say no, and we’ve got one foot in– we were just in Vegas at Planet 13, where there’s like, this crazy cannabis, it’s just an experience. And I wonder if it’s a generational thing, and it will be pretty much gone within a generation or two because it’ll be so normalized.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: You grew up in cities where there’s dispensaries on every corner, which a lot of people are growing up now, where there’s cannabis everywhere.
Rick Kiley: Well, that’s good. These are all good thoughts. And I think liminal time, by the way, is a great name for a brand, just to say, just liminal. Just throwing it out, that one’s yours.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think it’s a sublingual, like a liminal sublingual?
Rick Kiley: Oh man, it’s too hard to say. And if you can say it, you get it for free, yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Well, you’d have to say it after you add it and then you get the maximum.
Rick Kiley: Well, cool. Well, Rabbi James, we’re at the end of our time here. We do try to finish our interviews the same way. And you can pass. You can give an answer here. But we’re always talking about we’re charting the path of towards legalization federally here. Curious how you feel if you have a bet, a wager of some kind that you would put on when cannabis would be federally legal here in the United States if you have some thought about it.
Jeffrey Boedges: As a citizen of D.C., I expect it to be very accurate.
Rabbi James Kahn: When do I think cannabis is going to be legalized in the United States?
Rick Kiley: Federally, yeah. We’ve gotten answers from, it’s already legal to never, just so you know, like…
Jeffrey Boedges: From people in the industry, yeah.
Rabbi James Kahn: I mean, I’ll tell you if you would have asked me a year ago, I really would have said within the next seven years, I would have thought within the Biden administration. And I still have hopes. Even though Biden has never been a big fan of cannabis and still hasn’t really, even with the D.C., there’s still what’s called the Harris Rider, which is on the US budget, there’s still a clause that keeps D.C. from implementing the will of the people of D.C. who voted to legalize, not just medical but also rec adult use. So, while cannabis is legal in D.C., there’s no regulatory framework for the sale of cannabis in D.C. So, will the rider be removed as kind of where do you see that at the moment? And even that’s kind of a fight.
And another thing, before I answer this, that makes me a little sad and probably changes the way I– it makes me more negative is that our congresswoman in D.C., Congresswoman Norton, who put forth a recent request to the Biden administration asking for clarification regarding cannabis use in public housing because at the moment, if any cannabis use by a member of a family who’s living in public housing, you can’t live there. You can get kicked out of your home for cannabis, even if you have a medical permit, even if you’re one of these kids with epilepsy, and it’s the only thing that helps, even there’s no– and the Biden administration denied her request to allow it. So, that certainly isn’t hope inspiring.
At the same time, in this world of hyperdivision, I see cannabis as perhaps, one of just a handful of things that unify this country. And that gives me real hope. And people, we saw during COVID that cannabis is essential to the well-being and health care of millions of Americans, Republicans, Democrats, independents, Jews, Christians, it doesn’t matter. It’s essential. And I just believe that that is a steam engine, you can’t stop that. And politicians, they’re going to see that they have little to gain from continuing to behave the way they behaved around cannabis. So, I’ll stay hopeful and I will say, in the next six or seven years, six years…
Rick Kiley: Alright. That’s pretty conservative in relation to most but…
Jeffrey Boedges: And if you’re wrong, you can always– I said, 67, I didn’t say six.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: 67. You misunderstood me.
Rabbi James Kahn: Current polling, I could move it earlier because there may be less of a chance of getting it.
Rick Kiley: He’ll legalize it to help propel him to the reelection.
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah, let me change my response. It’s coming. It’s coming.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, Rabbi James Kahn, thank you so much for joining us. If people would like to learn more about Holistic or about Liberty Cannabis Cares, where should they check you out?
Rabbi James Kahn: Yeah, they can go to HolisticIndustries.com. They can look at our Impact section. They can go to LibertyCannabis.com, and I’m scattered around there as well. They can go to my LinkedIn page. They can Google Rabbi James Kahn, knocking this Kahn spelling, it’s K-A-H-N, that’s how you can find me. I’m pretty easy to find, actually. And yeah.
Rick Kiley: Cool.
Rabbi James Kahn: And thankfully, I’m not the only one doing this, I mean, this is more like a conference. The cannabis, how often do you get a chance to shape an industry? And you guys right here, too, we’re all involved in shaping a billion-dollar industry to be an ethical one, a moral one, one that doesn’t just look at the bottom line of dollars but cares about the planet and the people and the impact they’re having on it. And that’s what I want to see cannabis become, and I’m pretty hopeful we’re going to get there.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Great stuff. Thanks so much for joining us. Alright, cheers.