Nearly 100 groups and businesses in North Dakota have shown interest in producing or dispensing medical marijuana, pleasing state officials who are establishing a network for making the drug available to qualified patients.
The Health Department in June asked those interested in being a part of the system to notify the agency by the end of the month so it could gauge interest. The request drew 97 nonbinding letters of intent, exceeding expectations, according to Kenan Bullinger, director of the department's medical marijuana division.
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"I'm pretty sure we're going to have the ability to have a dispensary in each part of the state," he said.
North Dakota voters last November approved medical marijuana, and the Legislature earlier this year crafted regulations that Gov. Doug Burgum approved in April. The North Dakota Compassionate Care Act allows the use of medical marijuana to treat 17 medical conditions, along with terminal illnesses. The Health Department will register two "compassion centers" to grow and process the drug and eight more to dispense it.
The Health Department is finishing the process of drafting administrative rules that will cover such things as lab testing, security requirements and transportation regulations. Once that's complete, the agency will accept formal applications from potential processors and distributers — likely starting later this month and running through mid-October. Unlike the letter-of-intent process, those who apply will have to pay a non-refundable $5,000 application fee.
A committee will be set up to review proposals. It likely will include people with medical, legal, regulatory and laboratory testing expertise.
"It will be a good cross section of backgrounds, both government and non-government people," Bullinger said.
The Health Department is crafting a scoring and ranking system for applications, fine-tuning information gleaned from other states' experiences.
"The beauty in all of this, we've had a number of other states that have done this in the past," Bullinger said. "We've looked at a number of states' scoring systems, and how they ranked (applications)."
The Health Department hopes to make final selections by the end of November. That likely would mean medical marijuana would be available by late spring or early summer of 2018.
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