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Nearly 64 percent of voters approved medical marijuana in North Dakota on Tuesday, but it will likely be some time before a dispensary opens in the state, proponents say.

North Dakota Compassionate Care Act Committee Chairman Rilie Ray Morgan said his group has had a couple of inquiries from possible dispensary operators, but he’s not sure how serious they were.

“We’re a ways away from seeing a dispensary up and running,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile to get the (Health Department) up to speed and a legislative appropriation, so it’s not going to be happening overnight. At least we got the ball rolling.”

Morgan predicts it will be nine months to a year at the earliest before a medical marijuana industry takes hold in the state.

The passage of Measure 5 makes it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of up to nearly a dozen medical conditions. Facilities for medical marijuana distribution would be licensed by the state Health Department and be operated by nonprofit organizations.

Those more than 40 miles from a licensed facility would be able to grow up to eight marijuana plants after providing notification to law enforcement, as long as they’re grown in an enclosed facility.

“The number of North Dakotans who approved this was overwhelming. I don’t think there needs to be too much tweaking,” Morgan said of the implementation, though he said it will be up to legislators and regulators to make it work.

Because of medical marijuana’s “overwhelming support,” Eric Olson thinks full legalization has a good chance of passing in the state in 2018 or 2020.

“I think (full legalization) would have passed” if it had it been on the ballot this year, he said. That measure failed to get the signatures needed to make it onto the ballot this election cycle.

Morgan said if full legalization is on the horizon, it could make the recently passed measure unnecessary. He said Measure 5 could result in unnecessary government expenses “to manage something that doesn’t need to be managed,” though he did vote in favor of the measure.

The medical marijuana initiative could cost the North Dakota Department of Health about $7.35 million for the 2017-19 biennium, which includes costs for 32 full-time staff, according to Deputy Health Officer Arvy Smith. There’s also an additional $2.8 million cost per biennium estimated for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and fees included in the measure would not be enough to cover the full cost of implementation, she said.

Because of meeting rules associated with the measure, Olson also raised concerns that North Dakota residents interested in opening a mom-and-pop dispensary might have a hard time because it will take additional resources to comply.

In addition, because North Dakota is a smaller market, he said it may take a longer time for larger operators with the necessary resources to make their way here.

“It’s hard to say who will come,” Olson said. “It’s going to depend on how smooth implementation goes.”

Morgan was more optimistic about a locally run operation.

“I think there are locals that could get on board with this, apply for a license, get growing and get a dispensary up and running,” he said. “I don’t see why some group of North Dakota investors can’t get behind this.”

Either way, Morgan would like to see something happen as quickly as possible.

“Although it’s small market compared to other places, I think the industry is pretty sophisticated,” said Greg Falls, a partner at national law firm Sherman & Howard who is an expert in working with states to implement medical and recreational marijuana laws and policy. “If there’s an opportunity for businesspeople to make money in North Dakota, I think they will find their way there sooner rather than later.”

Falls pointed to small towns in Arizona, where it took a little while to open; but those that did open did a pretty good job of getting in.

Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, the nation’s largest medical marijuana company, said he doesn’t think there will be much of a lag.

“There’s always an interest in health care,” said Vita, adding that the key is to develop a “collaborative regulatory framework” and investors will be looking for a high degree of certainty and the ability to serve a wide range of patients. He said it will likely start in larger population areas and could come from a combination of local and outside investment.

While approving legalization of medical marijuana, North Dakota voters also helped to bring in a new president — one whose supporters have been critical of legalized marijuana. To date, the Barack Obama administration has largely allowed states to take the lead on marijuana legalization rather than enforcing federal law, as long as action is taken to limit use by minors.

Fall said whether that will change under Donald Trump’s administration is unknown, but it is something of which to be wary. He said if the new administration were to take action, it would most likely be through lawsuits against states, starting with those with fewer regulations preventing use by minors.

Morgan also acknowledged that possibility, but he said with medical marijuana now legal in nearly 30 states, he is confident the strength in numbers could lead to either a change in federal law or a continued deference to states’ rights.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Dispensary Development Not Expected For Another Year
Author: Jessica Holdman
Contact: (701) 223-2500
Photo Credit: Mike McCleary
Website: The Bismarck Tribune