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City preparing ordinances, processes to host medical marijuana dispensary site

Dickinson is readying to become one of eight medical marijuana dispensary sites named by the North Dakota Department of Health Thursday.

"We have had people express interest in becoming a dispensary," Shawn Kessel, Dickinson city administrator, said. "The state, as far as I understand, is going to license eight different dispensaries in North Dakota and two grow operations."

While there is a "robust state process" in place for becoming a licensed dispensary, the city is preparing its own ordinances for such a business.

"We are looking at a two-prong process," Kessel said. "We'd issue a shared use permit to make sure the location is in the zoning district that the commission prefers, and we'd also issue a license on an annual basis to make sure there is compliance with regularity to local city ordinance."

Discussions continue about where a dispensary would be located.

"There's some differences of opinion with regard to exact location," Kessel said. "One of the concerns of course is it is medical marijuana. There are a lot of preconceived notions about its use and the potential for abuse as this process rolls itself out, but there's also the recognition that this is for medical uses and there may be a desire, depending on how much traffic is involved, to locate it in a retail area."

He added, "It should be operated like a pharmacy."

Another concern for the city is security, Kessel said.

"It's still regulated from a federal perspective. Banking for these operations is difficult," he said. "It's a cash business. We're concerned about security issues that might surround the facility itself and the neighboring facilities."

The traffic such a business might generate is also a concern.

"We don't know how much traffic will be produced by these dispensaries," Kessel said. "We're concerned about potential parking issues and other traffic flow pattern issues surrounding these facilities."

It is the city's role, Kessel explained, to make sure it has policies in place and is ready to facilitate such a business.

"We're going to create an ordinance that allows (dispensaries) to operate," he said. "The vast majority of residents voted and said they wanted them, they wanted medical marijuana, so out of respect for those people who voted for it, the Legislature has produced a process and we have to be respectful of that process."

With so few "comfort care centers" in North Dakota, hosting one in Dickinson could generate "a fair amount of business" for the city, Kessel said.

"We have to be cognizant of the impact of those businesses and that's where our role is, to allow the operational parameters to happen," he said.

It is likely that, once a "comfort care permit" has been issued, a medical marijuana dispensary will open in Dickinson in 2018.

"We will work to make sure the commission has an ordinance in front of it," Kessel said, "and can adopt something prior to the state actually issuing comfort care licenses."