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Dispensary licensing process for medical marijuana in ND beginning

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- A medical marijuana dispensary could be licensed in the Jamestown area in the next month, according to Jason Wald, director of the Division of Medical Marijuana for the North Dakota Department of Health.

The department is seeking applications for dispensaries in the Jamestown, Devils Lake, Dickinson and Minot areas this month and could issue permits in about four weeks.

Permits have already been issued for two grow facilities and dispensary facilities in Bismarck, Mandan, Fargo, Grand Forks and Williston. Dispensaries in those areas could open sometime in February, Wald said.

Applications are also being accepted from individuals seeking approval to use medical marijuana. The application process requires the potential user to fill out identifying information and include a photograph. The patient’s doctor then fills out a statement that he or she has cared for the patient in the past and anticipates providing care in the future. A doctor also must certify the patient would likely benefit from medical marijuana. The North Dakota Health Department reviews all the information and, if it approves, issues a card allowing the patient to purchase medical marijuana at any licensed dispensary in the state.

“Some individuals have been able to submit the completed form,” Wald said, referring to potential medical marijuana users who have been able to provide the necessary information, including a statement from their medical provider. About 60 people have been approved for the program since it opened at the end of October, he said

But there are some potential users of medical marijuana who say doctors have been impossible to persuade to write the documentation necessary for the state to issue a registry card allowing them to acquire medical marijuana.

Rick Weir, a Jamestown resident suffering from chronic back pain, said he has tried unsuccessfully to get a doctor to file the written certificate of need with the North Dakota Department of Health.

“Nobody is willing to step outside the box and prescribe cannabis,” Weir said. “That’s a big problem for those looking for help. This is not about getting high, I could go out and get high, this is about getting relief.”

Clinics do have policies concerning when medical marijuana is appropriate.

Dr. James Volk, vice president of Sanford Clinic, said in an email that “Sanford does not endorse or oppose the use of medical marijuana. The decision is up to each Sanford doctor and what they feel is medically best for their patients. We base our discussions on medical research to ensure the best treatment for our patients.”

Dr. Richard Vetter, chief medical officer for Essentia Health, said Essentia is now adjusting policies based on Minnesota medical marijuana laws to reflect the rules being instituted in North Dakota.

The current Essentia Health policy includes a committee to review cases where medical marijuana is under consideration. The same policy may be extended to North Dakota.

“One of our concerns is many of these problems should be managed by a specialist,” Vetter said. “If the committee deems medical marijuana could be useful we proceed.”

Vetter said medical providers should determine when medical marijuana is appropriate.

“Our concern is to provide the best possible care,” he said. “This is not patient driven.”

Vetter said in Minnesota, medical marijuana was most commonly authorized for cancer, glaucoma and epilepsy patients.

Weir said patients should have a say in how they are treated.

“I’m just looking for God’s remedy,” he said.

The application process for the Jamestown, Devils Lake, Dickinson and Minot areas will likely close in late January or early February with the selection process taking approximately four weeks, Wald said.