Medical marijuana makes its North Dakota debut in Fargo

Pat Doherty
Pat Doherty, director of new market development for Acreage Holdings, describes products inside a display case at The Botanist in Fargo, N.D., Thursday.
Dave Kolpack | AP Photo

North Dakota's first medical marijuana dispensary opened for business Friday in a Fargo mini-mall and several of the dozen or so people who showed up in the first hour said they're relieved they can finally get the drug.

It took the state more than two years to build up a regulatory structure after voters approved medical marijuana in 2016. Marcus Schumacher, 23, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, showed up in the cold and snow and said it was worth the wait.

"It was a little bit slow but it's day one," said Schumacher, who spent about an hour filling out forms and looking through the offerings. "I'm very relieved, in all honesty."

Schumacher said he's happy he can get cannabis and "won't feel like a criminal."

Schumacher, of Fargo, said he found several products he believes will help him, primarily the cartridges for vaping because he prefers that over smoking. Others, such as Lanei Groshong, who suffers from severe arthritis, were disappointed because the shop does not yet have forms of the drug that aren't tailored to smoking, like edibles.

Patients in North Dakota eventually will be able to buy products in six forms, including dried leaves and flowers, concentrates, tinctures, capsules, topicals and transdermal patches. The Botanist initially will have dried leaves and flowers and two types of concentrates and will add more forms later, according to Jason Wahl, director of the state's Medical Marijuana Division.

Edibles were part of the original initiative but the state Legislature removed them from the list. A House bill introduced in the current session would return them to the menu.

"There really isn't anything here that suited me yet," said Groshong, of West Fargo. "I just have to wait until they get more product in."

Another customer Friday happened to be the man behind the medical marijuana movement who suffers from severe back pain. Ray Morgan said he felt a "sense of relief" because it was a "long slog" to get to opening day.

Morgan agreed with Groshong that "it's not a very good menu" for people who don't smoke and added that prices are "a bit on the high side" compared with other states. He noted that demand doesn't favor the consumer at this time with only about 130 certified patients in North Dakota.

"If doctors educate themselves we will definitely see more doctors certifying patients," Morgan said. "They have to get over this thing that they are prescribing. They are not prescribing."

While the store was locked up tight Friday for anybody but customers, members of the media were allowed inside on Thursday. The main show room has the feel of a spa or salon, with wood floors, two large display cases illuminated by hanging lights and shelves with flower pots and artificial seeds hanging out the sides of empty jugs. The back of the space features a so-called "living wall" of leaves, plants and moss behind the check-out area.

"We feel it is a very unique experience. It's a blending of nature and science," said Pat Doherty, director of new market development for New York City-based Acreage Holdings, which has operating licenses in 19 states, dispensaries in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, and promotes itself as the largest cannabis operator in the nation.

While most patients were impressed with the atmosphere, the one thing missing was an ATM machine. A couple of people left the building to get money from a nearby bank to spend at the cash-only business.

State law limits the amount of THC, the chemical that produces a high, in the capsule, patch and topical forms, and it requires patients to get special authorization from a health care provider for dried leaves and flowers with a THC concentration greater than 6 percent. That form is not available to minors.

Doherty said patients who are making their first visits should talk with a staff member about their medical condition and what products might be best for them. A consultation room is located off the showroom floor.

The state Health Department has been setting up a system since the 2017 Legislature crafted rules that allow the use of medical marijuana for 17 qualifying health conditions, along with terminal illnesses. State lawmakers this year are considering expanding the list of legal conditions to 30.

The Health Department hopes to have dispensaries operating in the state's eight major cities by fall.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.