Home-grown medical marijuana is illegal in North Dakota, director tells S.D. legislators

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The North Dakota medical marijuana program licenses two growers and eight regional dispensaries to better control the supply, and home-grown pot isn’t allowed, the system’s director told a panel of South Dakota legislators studying the topic Monday.

Jason Wahl said North Dakota’s initiated law that voters passed in 2016 originally permitted home-grown medical marijuana but the Legislature removed that provision.

“A lot of them caught a whole lot of hell,” Wahl said, but the change was good for the program.

The repeal, which North Dakota lawmakers have twice refused to overturn, was based in part on the experience of Colorado, where medical marijuana became legal in 2001.

The new South Dakota law says medical card-holders can possess up to three ounces of marijuana and home cultivators must have a minimum of three plants.

“Proceed with caution is what I recommend,” Kenneth Finn, a pain doctor from Colorado Springs, told the South Dakota lawmakers.

Finn, who’s edited a book, Cannabis in Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach, said he hasn’t been shown any clinical studies that conclude marijuana use produces lasting positive health effects.

He suggested South Dakota’s new medical marijuana program that starts this fall should have a THC potency cap, outlaw home-grown marijuana, monitor health impacts and discourage use during pregnancy and lactation.

Medical marijuana bought from private dispensaries in Colorado isn’t well-tested, Finn said, and home-grown marijuana is neither tested nor taxed. “Home grows are the breeding grounds for illegal markets,” he said.

The legislators reacted as might be expected — opponents believing the warnings and backers skeptical.

“Almost scary information that you presented today,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Senator Bryan Breitling, said.

“I think I just lived through a horror show,” Representative Fred Deutsch said.

During public testimony, marijuana industry lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy of Rapid City argued that eliminating home-grown would be going back on what South Dakota voters approved last November when 70% supported IM 26 legalizing medical marijuana.

Senator V.J. Smith told Finn, “You painted a dire picture,” before asking whether Colorado had seen more deaths from opioids or marijuana.

“We have a poly-substance problem in our country,” Finn replied. He said South Dakota needs to prepare for enforcement of more driving violations and for healthcare to receive more pediatric exposures. “Media bias” is why the public doesn’t know more about Colorado’s problems from marijuana, he said.

He thanked the legislators for looking for ways to strengthen what voters passed “because a lot of states never did this.”

Finn suggested a state-regulated grow operation and state-run dispensaries. He noted that Colorado Springs, the second-largest city in Colorado where he practices, doesn’t allow legal marijuana, even though 28% of the medical-marijuana card-holders live in the county.

In North Dakota, Wahl said a special IT system keeps track of registered medical-marijuana patients, caregivers and agents for the dispensaries and growers. The system also traces sales and won’t allow patients to buy more than allowed in a 30-day period. Live video shows activity at growers and dispensaries.

North Dakota requires in-person visits for a patient to receive a card allowing purchases. The renewals can be done through telehealth. North Dakota doesn’t recognize cards from other jurisdictions.

There were 5,501 active card-holders in North Dakota as of June 1 and 137 designated caregivers, according to Wahl, about 1,500 more than the 4,000 budgeted for. He said a law change August 1 will allow up to five caregivers per patient.

North Dakota has less than 30 minors — people younger than age 19 — registered. Wahl said their parents generally give good reviews. North Dakota has a 6% THC limit on products for minors, who mostly use capsules and tinctures, according to Wahl, because they aren’t allowed to get dried leaves and buds.

Wahl said having an unlimited number of dispensaries, as South Dakota would, is high risk because of low patient counts in many rural areas and the potential for unprofitability.

The panel also heard from several tribal government representatives. Ross Garelick-Bell, a lobbyist for several tribal governments, said each of the nine tribes is putting in place separate ordinances and oversight. He said tribes generally weren’t interested in compacts similar to what federal law requires for tribal casinos.

Janelle Rooks from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Cannabis Commission said the group to which she was appointed in December has been working to get a system established and its cards would apply only on the Oglala Sioux reservation. “We’re still in the set-up mode for the entire industry,” she said.

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