FARGO — The first of eight planned medical marijuana dispensaries in North Dakota opens its doors to card-carrying patients at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 1.
Pat Doherty, director of new markets and new development for Acreage Holdings Inc. that owns and operates the facility, said the company is "extremely excited to lead the way" as the initial compassion center. The Botanist dispensary is located at 4302 13th Ave. S. in Fargo.
Doherty said the New York City-based company focused on creating an inviting atmosphere for patients with a simple but classy look with a lush living wall of indoor plants (not marijuana).
The dispensary has a large waiting room after a person enters with workers behind a large glass window where patients can check in. Only patients and caregivers can go into the dispensary area where the marijuana products and smoking accessories are available to examine and buy.
Patients must have medical approval to gain a certification card from the state Department of Health, which costs $50.
Doherty said a key part of a patient's first visit is educational and a room is set aside for consultations with trained staff members, which includes manager Andrew Degenhart and eventually up to 10 employees.
Doherty also said members of the company's board of advisers, which includes former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner, will be visiting the state to talk with physicians and health care networks about the company's research into medical marijuana and its benefits.
He pointed out that many patients use it to treat pain and it's a much better option than opioids, which have been killing citizens across the country.
"There's a stigma that still exists," he said about the medical marijuana. "However, it's legal in 33 states now, so it's here and it's here to stay."
In North Dakota, 130 patients or caregivers have received cards from the state's four-person Division of Medical Marijuana. The division is processing another 120 applications.
Jason Wahl, who operates the division and was in Fargo to oversee the opening of the well-secured building on Thursday, said he has had numerous calls from patients who can't find a physician to certify their need for the medical marijuana.
Some bills in the state Legislature would not only expand qualifying medical conditions but also relieve physician concerns about certifying a federally illegal drug. The bills sailed through the House and now face votes in the Senate.
Products offered at The Botanist include flowers and buds, concentrates or oil that can be smoked in a vape "pen" and a stronger product called shatter, which is a concentrate smoked in a bong or pipe, Doherty said.
Topicals and capsules can also currently be sold in North Dakota, but he said the products aren't available because all of the marijuana used in the dispensaries has to be grown and processed in the state at one of the two manufacturing facilities in Bismarck or Fargo.
Products available carry variable levels of THC, the part of marijuana that gets a person high.
Payments, for now, he said can only be made in cash. Doherty didn't want to list the prices, but according to him it will be more than the going price on the street.
No matter the price, Wahl said he has learned from other states that the companies selling medical marijuana don't make a profit for three to five years because of the startup costs and other factors.
Doherty said products for The Botanist will come from Bismarck, but when the Fargo growing facility operated by a different company has product available, there might be price breaks.
Some discounts will be offered, including 25 percent for veterans and 10 percent for senior citizens over age 65, low-income residents and caregivers who are providing product for minors. Paperwork will be required for low-income residents to gain a discount.
Hours of operation at The Botanist will be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
As for the other state dispensaries, Wahl said Grand Forks could open in April, followed by Williston in May and Bismarck in June.
Applications for dispensaries in Minot, Devils Lake, Dickinson and Jamestown closed on Tuesday, with several companies applying in each of the cities. Wahl hopes to have those dispensaries operational by the end of the year.
Although voters approved medical marijuana in November of 2016, Wahl said the state Legislature in January of 2017 suspended implementation of the program and made changes. When the governor signed a bill addressing changes in April, the department started work on getting it operating. Although it's been almost two years since then, Wahl said other states have taken from 18 months to 24 months generally to get the program operational.