BISMARCK — Whether there's a shortage of medical marijuana in North Dakota became a matter of contention during an update on the state's program Thursday, Nov. 7, at a meeting of the Legislature's interim human services committee.
Growing facilities in Bismarck and Fargo are the only legal suppliers of medical marijuana to the state's seven operating dispensaries. An eighth and final dispensary is expected to open next month in Dickinson.
"I think there is a bit of a supply issue," said Chris Nolden, a medical marijuana card holder and patient. "It's understandable; we're going to have some growing pains. I get that. I'm not here bashing. I'm just saying, the reality of the situation is we are running out of product."
Nolden said the Bismarck dispensary recently was running low on "flower, oil, pens, everything" and that a certain strain that works well for his medical conditions has been unavailable for more than two months.
North Dakota's top medical marijuana regulator disagreed that there is a shortage of medical marijuana in the state, despite Nolden's complaint.
"If dispensaries were having certain shortages, I would say that could be some growing pains on the dispensaries side," said Jason Wahl, director of the Department of Health's medical marijuana division. He explained that an administrative rule that took effect on Oct. 1 requiring more stringent compliance testing of medical marijuana might have played a role in the perceived shortage.
The update in testing requirements for heavy metals prevented manufacturing facilities from delivering more inventory to dispensaries during a period of time in October.
"Dispensaries were notified of this. They were given ample time to order accordingly. From our perspective, they probably did not take the appropriate action that they needed to, to insure they got through that window when we weren't allowed to make transports," Wahl said.
Pure Dakota LLC, the Bismarck growing facility, has been the main supplier to the state's dispensaries since the first opened in Fargo on March 1. Grassroots Cannabis, the Fargo facility, has been able to put out a limited supply of certain types of medical marijuana products since September, according to Wahl.
Under state law, the two manufacturing facilities can grow up to 1,000 marijuana plants each. A bill passed during the recent legislative session allows facilities to go over that allotment by paying a $10,000 fee for every 500 additional plants.
"That's being used. That's been helpful," Wahl said.
North Dakota has 1,637 active patient cardholders as of Oct. 31, according to the Department of Health.
North Dakota voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016. The Health Department has been working on the system since lawmakers first crafted rules for the drug in early 2017. The state expects as many as 4,000 residents will legally be using the drug by summer 2021. That’s based on the experience in Delaware, which North Dakota officials have cited as a model. Dispensaries have opened in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Williston, Minot, Jamestown and Devils Lake.