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BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota's first medical marijuana dispensary is set to open in Fargo on Feb. 28, 2019, the culmination of a nearly two-year effort by the state Health Department to establish a distribution system for the drug.

New York City-based Acreage Holdings plans to open The Botanist, selling drugs produced by a manufacturing facility in Bismarck, the capital, the company and state announced Feb. 21, 2019. The dispensary first will need to undergo what amounts to a final state inspection to ensure it meets all security rules, according to state Medical Marijuana Division Director Jason Wahl.

The facility also will offer an educational station, according to Harris Damashek, chief marketing officer for Acreage Holdings, which has operating licenses in 19 states and dispensaries in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.

North Dakota voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016. The Health Department has been working on the system since lawmakers crafted rules in early 2017 allowing the use of medical marijuana for 17 medical conditions, along with terminal illnesses. A bill passed by the state House on Feb. 18, 2019, and sent to the Senate would expand the list of legal conditions to 30.

The state began accepting applications in October 2018 from residents for medical marijuana cards, and has been issuing them for about a month. Only about 120 have been approved so far, but the state expects as many as 4,000 residents will legally be using the drug by summer 2021. That's based on the experience in Delaware, which North Dakota officials have cited as a model.

The state hopes to have dispensaries operating in its eight major cities by fall. It already has named operators for facilities in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Williston. Applications for dispensaries in Devils Lake, Dickinson, Jamestown and Minot are being accepted through Feb. 26, 2019.

A second manufacturing facility, in Fargo, has begun growing medical marijuana but is probably “a month or two away” from having supplies available, according to Wahl.

North Dakota has used a phased-in approach to setting up a distribution system that is modeled after other states that have set up medical marijuana programs. The Health Department has endured some criticism over the amount of time it has taken to make medical marijuana available, though the timeline isn't unusual when compared to other states with the drug, according to the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

The state last year selected a Florida-based company to implement a monitoring system and a Pennsylvania-based company to perform laboratory testing to ensure medical marijuana is safe. The market — not the state — will dictate what the drug costs, and patients are not allowed to grow their own cannabis plants. There are six approved forms of consumption, and the House has approved adding a seventh, edibles. The Senate must still approve.


— Blake Nicholson

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