BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota's first medical marijuana dispensary will open next week, the culmination of a nearly two-year effort by the state's medical authority to set up a drug distribution system.
Acreage Holdings, based in New York City, plans to open the Botanist in Fargo on Feb. 28 with the sale of medicines produced by a Bismarck plant, the company and the state announced on Thursday. The dispensarium will first have to undergo a final inspection to ensure that it complies with all security regulations, according to State Medical Marijuana Division Director Jason Wahl.
The facility will also offer an educational station, according to Harris Damashek, chief marketing officer for Acreage Holdings, who has operational licenses in 19 states and dispensaries in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.
The voters in North Dakota have approved the drug in November 2016. The health ministry has worked on the system since legislators in early 2017 established rules for the use of medical marijuana for 17 medical conditions, as well as terminal illnesses. A bill that was adopted by the state on Monday and sent to the Senate would extend the list of legal conditions to 30.
The state began accepting residents' applications for medical marijuana cards in October and spent about a month. So far, only about 120 have been approved, but the state expects that as many as 4,000 inhabitants will legally use the drug in the summer of 2021. That is based on the experience in Delaware, which modeled North Dakota officials as a model.
The state hopes to have dispensaries in the autumn in its eight major cities. It already has operators for facilities in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Williston. Requests for dispensaries in Devils Lake, Dickinson, Jamestown and Minot are accepted until Tuesday.
A second production facility, in Fargo, has begun to grow medical marijuana, but is likely "a month or two away" from having a product available, Wahl says.
North Dakota has followed a phased approach to setting up a distribution system modeled on other states that have established medical marijuana programs. The Department of Health has criticized the amount of time it has taken to make the drug available, although the timeline is not uncommon compared to other states with the drug, according to the advocacy group Americans for safe access.
The state last year chose a Florida-based company to implement a monitoring system and a Pennsylvania-based company to conduct laboratory tests on medical marijuana to ensure it's safe. The market – not the state – will dictate what the drug costs and patients may not let their own medicine grow. There are six approved forms of the drug, and the House has agreed to add a seventh food item. The senate still has to approve it.
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