- Associated Press - Thursday, January 11, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Health Department established eight regions for medical marijuana dispensaries in an effort to ensure qualifying patients have easy access to the drug.

The regions center around the state’s largest cities - Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Williston and Dickinson - though the dispensaries that eventually are chosen can be located anywhere within a 50-mile radius of those cities.

“By establishing eight regions, the North Dakota Department of Health is able to provide access to dispensaries to the majority of the population in the state with as minimal travel as possible,” State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte said Thursday.

State voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016. The Health Department has been working to create the program since Gov. Doug Burgum last April approved regulations crafted by lawmakers. State law allows medical marijuana for 17 medical conditions and terminal illnesses. The drug isn’t expected to be available to patients until late this year.

The Health Department last June asked those interested in producing or dispensing medical marijuana to notify the agency so it could gauge interest. The request drew 97 nonbinding letters of intent, exceeding state officials’ expectations.

It will be a few months before the state begins accepting formal applications from groups and businesses that want to set up a dispensary. Administrative rules covering such things as lab testing, security requirements and transportation regulations must first be approved by the attorney general’s office and the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee.

The State Health Council, which advises the Health Department, voted Thursday to approve the rules, which could be fine-tuned as the medical marijuana program evolves.

“They need to be adaptive at some level,” Council Vice Chairman Duane Pool said.

After final approval of the rules, the Health Department will accept applications from manufacturing facilities, likely in late spring or early summer, before moving on to application periods for dispensaries, patients and caregivers. The Health Department also will choose a lab to test the marijuana.

The application period closed Monday for proposals for a system to monitor the medical marijuana program, including helping register dispensaries and patient card holders. Medical Marijuana Division Interim Director Jason Wahl declined to say how many proposals were submitted, referring the question to the state’s procurement office, a part of the Office of Management and Budget.

Procurement Officer Tricia Opp said the state is not releasing the number of applications because “it could be a factor in the negotiation process.” She did confirm that the state received proposals.


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