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Several urge quick implementation of medical marijuana during ND rules hearing

Jason Wahl, interim director of the North Dakota Department of Health's medical marijuana division, gives opening comments at a public hearing on the agency's proposed rules for the program Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, at the state Capitol. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Several people urged the North Dakota Department of Health to quickly implement the state's new medical marijuana program during a public hearing on proposed rules Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the state Capitol.

R. Pete Daniels, founder and CEO of Sister Havana's Foundation, which he described as a future applicant to "provide medical cannabis in the state," said the state is moving at a "near-stagnant pace" to allow the product. Their business plans — he said they have a warehouse in Mandan lined up for a growing facility — have been delayed by the state's process.

"How much longer are the people of this state with qualifying diagnoses and their children going to be denied medication that has proven to work?" Daniels said.

Mary Rennich of Bismarck, whose son has severe epilepsy, said "it's been painful to wait" but was glad state officials were being careful about the rulemaking process.

"I respectfully understand the speed at which it's going, but if there's any way to expedite this, please just know that there are many, many people waiting," she said.

Jason Wahl, the interim director of the Health Department's medical marijuana division, said it typically takes states 18 to 24 months to implement such a program.

North Dakota voters approved the medical marijuana ballot measure last year with almost 64 percent of the vote. But state lawmakers said the new law was flawed and required changes. They rewrote it and Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill in April.

The Health Department has said medical marijuana may not be available for patients until late next year. It hopes to present the rules to the legislative Administrative Rules Committee in March. If the rules are approved then, the earliest they could be finalized is April 1.

The 50 pages of proposed rules dive into the weeds of the state's medical marijuana program and dictate how the product will be transported, packaged and tested, among a host of other requirements. Aaron Birst, representing the North Dakota Association of Counties, suggested a few clarifications in those guidelines.

The rules also describe the application process for so-called "compassion centers," but the Health Department doesn't plan to accept applications for manufacturing facilities or dispensaries until at least April 1.

State law allows the department to register up to two manufacturing facilities and up to eight dispensaries, but it could allow more to increase access.

Hearing schedule

Thursday's hearings on medical marijuana rules:

• 9 a.m., Fargo Cass Public Health, 1240 25th St. S.

• 2 p.m., Grand Forks County Building, Memorial Conference Rooms on the sixth floor, 151 S. Fourth St.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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