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The process has begun for those interested in getting approval for growing and processing marijuana for the state’s medical marijuana program. The North Dakota Department of Health will select two manufacturers for the state.

Potential manufacturers have to get zoning permission from the cities or counties where they plan to locate. They must apply by April 19.

The only zoning requirement established by the state is that facilities must not be within 1,000 feet of a school. Cities and counties can put other requirements on the applicants. In Morton County, a partnership including Brian and Angie McGinness, has applied for a special use permit. The McGinnesses own Riverbound Farm, which offers an organic produce subscription service. It seems to the Tribune Editorial Board like the type of business we would prefer manufacturing marijuana. It’s an established local business that would benefit from producing another crop. It should give a little boost to the local economy.

However, the Morton County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denying the request. It still goes to the Morton County Commission for final action, so it could be reversed.

Not knowing the other applicants the Tribune isn’t endorsing anyone, but having local businesspeople running the manufacturing operations is attractive.

The McGinnesses hope to grow the marijuana in four hoop house structures, while conducting processing activities in a smaller hard-sided structure. The couple is willing to  make changes in their plans to ease concerns of neighbors.

The state expects to open the application process for medical marijuana dispensaries on May 17. There will be eight dispensaries selected for the state. 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. While state health officials say there’s no evidence more than eight dispensaries will be needed, more could be added.

It’s not cheap to be a manufacturer or dispensary. There’s a $90,000 registration fee every two years for dispensaries and manufacturers will pay $110,000 for a two-year registration. There could be money for counties where the manufacturers are located. If North Dakota decides the sale of medical cannabis will be considered commercial, Morton County will benefit from sales tax and commercial property tax revenues generated by the proposed use. However, if the sales are considered agricultural Morton County won’t benefit because it doesn’t take in sales tax revenue for the wholesale of agricultural products.

The state is being very deliberate as it establishes the rules for the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The Legislature made it clear that the program must meet the needs of the people it’s intended to help. For those who voted for the ballot measure in November 2016 there’s some disappointment over the time it’s taking to establish the program. It likely will be two years between the vote and the beginning of the program.

About the time the medical marijuana program is put in place voters could be deciding whether to decriminalize marijuana. Legalize ND is collecting signatures for a petition calling for the legalization of marijuana. If it gets on the ballot, voters will decide if the use, sale, possession and distribution of marijuana for anyone 21 or older should be legal. Whether the time it has taken to get the medical marijuana program in place will influence a vote on decriminalizing the drug is anyone’s guess.

The Tribune believes the state was correct to make sure it got the medical marijuana program right. If the other marijuana proposal gets on the ballot we’ll see how strong residents feel about marijuana use.

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