BISMARCK-State rules governing North Dakota's new medical marijuana program will go into effect April 1 after a legislative committee reviewed the guidelines Monday, March 12.
The Administrative Rules Committee meeting marks a significant step in the state Department of Health's efforts to implement the program about 16 months after voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for medical use. Citing flaws, legislators rewrote that law last year.
"Without the rules, this program really cannot move forward," said Jason Wahl, director of the Health Department's medical marijuana division. "The department is committed to implementing this program as quickly as it can, but needs to ensure that this program is implemented in well-regulated manner."
Wahl anticipates opening the application period for manufacturing facilities by the end of the week and said medical marijuana could be available to patients late this year, depending on a "number of factors."
But questions still remain.
State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte requested an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in August about whether marijuana production would fall under the definition of "farming" in the state's anti-corporate farming law. That may affect who could apply as marijuana growers, Wahl said.
"The department had been hearing questions from certain individuals, some legislators and also other state agencies within state government," he said.
Republican Rep. Robin Weisz, who chaired the Human Services Committee that worked on the medical marijuana bill last session, said lawmakers added language "to make it clear that these were not considered agricultural operations."
The state's anti-corporate farming law is currently being challenged in federal court by the North Dakota Farm Bureau.
Meanwhile, two people who attended Monday's meeting, including Paul Jurgens, the KFGO news director who's interested in applying for a dispensary license, questioned how a potential ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in North Dakota would affect the medical program.
"I think it would be very difficult for administrative (agencies) to make decisions based on something that might happen," said Republican Rep. Bill Devlin, chairman of the rules committee.
Jurgens said he wouldn't report on medical marijuana any longer, given his personal interest in the program. Wahl said the application period for dispensaries will come after the manufacturing facilities have been selected.