ND medical marijuana rules poised for approval

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s State Health Council is poised to sign off on administrative rules for medical marijuana amid uncertainty over whether the federal government might crack down on state marijuana operations.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week rescinded an Obama administration policy pledging that federal authorities wouldn’t crack down on marijuana operations in states where they were legal, as long as the states maintained tight regulations.
The impact of the decision isn’t known, and North Dakota’s Health Department will forge ahead with creating a medical marijuana program approved by voters and set into law by the 2017 Legislature, said Jason Wahl, interim director of the department’s medical marijuana division.
“We’ll continue to monitor information from the federal government, and attempt to provide updates to the public,” he said.
People can register on the department’s website to receive email updates about the developing medical marijuana program. The North Dakota Compassionate Care Act allows the use of the drug for 17 medical conditions, along with terminal illnesses.
The Health Department has been working to create the program since Gov. Doug Burgum last April approved regulations crafted by lawmakers following voters’ approval of the drug in November 2016.
Officials last November unveiled 50 pages of proposed administrative rules to cover such things as lab testing, security requirements and transportation regulations, and the department held public meetings on them late last year.
The process resulted in some changes, such as lengthening the time that law enforcement agencies will have to report to the state any problem incidents, according to Wahl.
The State Health Council, which advises the department, is meeting Thursday to adopt the rules. If the attorney general’s office signs off, they will go to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee for approval in March. With a satisfactory vote there, “the department anticipates having an open application period for manufacturing facilities,” Wahl said.
The department on Tuesday released a draft application for potential manufacturers , to give them a head start on the process.
Application periods would follow for potential dispensaries, patients and caregivers. The Health Department also would choose a lab to test the marijuana.
“The department is still looking at usable marijuana for qualifying patients in that October, November, December timeframe,” Wahl said.
That would be two years after voters approved the drug and months later than initial state estimates. The timeline has been criticized by the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, but the group Americans for Safe Access says it isn’t unusual when compared with other states that have set up programs.