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Brian and Angie McGinness, of Riverbound Farm, will be requesting a special use permit for the potential establishment of a medical marijuana compassion center near St. Anthony.

The request, which will be presented to the Morton County Planning and Zoning Commission this evening, is a first for the county, according to Natalie Pierce, Morton County’s director of planning and zoning.

“It’s something interesting and out of the usual routine,” she said.

The McGinnesses own a 38-acre farm, where they operate an organic produce subscription service. The couple is interested in establishing a medical marijuana growing/processing facility on 3 acres of their existing farm.

The North Dakota Department of Health began accepting applications from potential manufacturers of medical marijuana March 16, with an April 19 deadline. The McGinnesses said they hope to be one of the two manufacturers the state selects to be registered.

In order for their application to be processed and approved by the state, the county must first sign off on the location the McGinnesses have selected for the potential compassion center.

Morton County will allow medical cannabis growing and processing facilities in its agricultural and industrial districts; however, a special use permit is required. Riverbound Farm qualifies, as it's zoned agricultural.

About seven residences are located within a mile of the farm, with the closest neighbor living 890 feet from the proposed facility. No schools, daycare facilities, public parks, public playgrounds or churches are located nearby.

The county does not currently allow medical marijuana to be grown in greenhouses or hoop houses. If granted a special use permit, the McGinnesses said they would prefer to grow the product in four hoop house structures, while conducting processing activities in a smaller hard-sided structure.

“Greenhouse production of medical cannabis is widely accepted in the industry for its superior product and energy efficiency,” said Brian McGinness, noting greenhouse production is 10 times more efficient than growing medical marijuana in a warehouse. “This, in turn, allows for a much more affordable product to the patients.”

However, the couple said, if the request is granted, they are willing to adjust their plans according to the county’s zoning regulations. They've asked the commission to consider amending the ordinance to allow for the growing of medical marijuana in greenhouses and hoop houses.

A security fence, standing at least 8 feet tall with controlled access, would be installed on a portion of the McGinness property, and some paving or graveling would be completed to ensure commercial traffic can come and go with ease.

“Primary security will be achieved through fencing, security alarms and security cameras installed and monitored by professional contractors and the North Dakota Department of Health,” Brian McGinness said.

After reviewing the application, staff with the county's planning and zoning department recommend approval by the commission of the special use permit, which is conditional upon the McGinnesses obtaining a compassion center license from the NDDOH.

If approved by the planning and zoning commission, the granting of the special use permit will then be voted on by the Morton County Commission, which has the final say.

“If these applicants succeed, the special use permit will be voided if they don’t obtain approval and licensing from the Department of Health,” Pierce said.

Counties in North Dakota are waiting on the state to determine if the sale of medical cannabis will be considered commercial or agricultural.

If ruled commercial in nature, Morton County will benefit from sales tax and commercial property tax revenues generated by the proposed use, according to Pierce. However, the county does not take in sales tax revenue for the wholesale of agricultural products.

(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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General Assignment Reporter