ND: Cities Look At Regulating Potential Sites For Medical Marijuana Facilities

Photo Credit: Reuters

North Dakota likely won’t open the application process for medical marijuana dispensaries until at least mid-May, but cities and counties already are preparing.

The State Department of Health began accepting applications for potential medical marijuana manufacturers on Friday. Applications will be accepted through April 19, and soon after the state will pick two manufacturers.

It’s a major step in implementing the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, a measure approved by voters in November 2016 that allows qualifying patients to use marijuana for medical purposes.

The state is hammering out the details of the application process for dispensaries, and the application process for choosing eight facilities to operate in North Dakota won’t open until after the manufacturers are announced, said Jason Wahl, medical marijuana division director for the health department. The goal is to begin accepting applications on May 17, but that date is tentative, he said.

The department is still working out the application process for dispensaries, so it’s unclear when it would choose which companies would run the facilities and where they would go.

The state set up eight regions to have one dispensary — the regions cover a 50-mile radius with eight of North Dakota’s largest cities at the center: Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Bismarck, Minot, Williston and Dickinson.

“There is no evidence to indicate we need more than eight,” Wahl said, though it’s possible more could be added if needed.

Dispensaries will have to pay a $90,000 registration fee every two years if their applications are accepted, while the manufacturers will pay $110,000 for a two-year registration. But before the businesses go to the state, they must get approval from counties or cities to build.

The only zoning requirement by the state is that facilities must not be within 1,000 feet of a school. Cities and counties are free to decide where the dispensaries will go.

Most cities at the center of the eight regions have either developed or are discussing zoning ordinances regarding the dispensaries and manufacturing facilities.

Grand Forks City Planner Brad Gengler presented on Monday the first reading of the city’s zoning ordinance to City Council. The ordinance mostly mimics state law and puts few additional restrictions on the potential facilities.

Dispensaries are treated like pharmacies, Gengler said, and can be built in a shopping center or general business district. The manufacturing districts would be limited to industrial districts, the ordinance said.

“We chose not to, for a lack of a better term, demonize the operation,” he said.

Other cities, such as Williston, lay out more detailed guidelines. The city calls for facilities to apply for special use permits. In most cases, it also requires the facilities to be at least 1,000 feet away from a church, 300 feet away from a residence and outside a residential zone.

The city looked at West Fargo’s ordinance regarding medical marijuana, Williston principal planner Rachel Laqua said. It also researched cities in states that allow medical marijuana use, such a Colorado.

“There is also a requirement that there be no odor from there,” she said.

Fargo likely won’t change its ordinance when it comes to medical marijuana, said Donald Kress, planning coordinator for Fargo’s Planning and Development Department. It would view the medical marijuana dispensaries as retail use and would rely on state and federal laws to place the facilities, he said.

“At this time, we are not going to make a special ordinance just for that,” he said.

Gengler said he hadn’t received any calls as of Wednesday from anyone wanting to open a medical marijuana facility in Grand Forks, though some have asked what type of ordinances the city has in place. He also hasn’t received calls from residents expressing concerns about the potential location of the facilities.

A specific location hasn’t been picked for the dispensaries in Grand Forks, Gengler added.