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Chief's Corner: Medical marijuana campaign ongoing

Mike Reitan

A signature collection campaign is underway to place the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act on the Nov. 8 ballot. The measure can be viewed on the North Dakota secretary of state website under the “Ballot Measures” link.

A review of the document indicates the measure will add a new chapter to Title 19 of the North Dakota Century Code, creating an act providing for the medical use of marijuana for defined debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma and epilepsy.

A qualified patient could receive up to 3 ounces of usable marijuana every 14 days from a compassionate care facility.

The North Dakota Department of Health would be responsible to regulating and enforcing the act.

A qualified patient would be eligible to receive a written certification dated and signed by a physician, stating that in the physician’s opinion the patient is likely to receive therapeutic and palliative benefit from the medical use of marijuana. A written certification can be made only when the qualifying patient is under the physician’s observation for their primary medical care or for the treatment of the patient’s debilitating condition after the physician has completed an assessment of the patient’s medical history and current medical condition.

Medical marijuana will be made available through compassion care facilities registered by the Department of Health. Certain restrictions are placed upon each facility. The facility cannot conduct any activity relating to marijuana other than those activities necessary to serve a qualified patient. The facility may not use pesticides when cultivating marijuana. A compassionate care facility may not be located within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public or private school.

The compassionate care facility must maintain accurate books and records and make those records available to the Health Department for random and yearly inspections. The facility must also provide security for the facility by limiting unauthorized access to locations where marijuana is produced or stored; installing exterior lighting; maintaining an alarm system providing immediate notification to local law enforcement; and installing a video surveillance system.

A compassionate care facility is limited on the amount of inventory it may possess. The facility may not have more than 1,000 marijuana plants or more than 3,500 ounces (218¾ pounds) of usable marijuana regardless of formulation.

A facility may not purchase marijuana from any other person other than another registered compassionate care facility. Packaged inventory must include labeling indicating the name of the strain, batch and quantity of the medical marijuana; a statement that the product is for medical use only and not for resale; indication the medical marijuana is free of contaminants; and that lists the level of active ingredients in the product.

If the qualifying patient’s home is located more than 40 miles from the nearest compassionate care facility, the patient may grow up to eight marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked facility. The enclosed, locked facility cannot be within 1,000 feet of a public or private school. The qualified patient must provide the local law enforcement agency notice of the intent to grow marijuana. The notice must include the patient’s name, a copy of the written certification from the physician, and the address of the location where the marijuana will be grown.

Looking to the state of Colorado as an example of a jurisdiction dealing with medical marijuana, there are some concerns. Indoor grow operations, like those required by the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, enable a year-long growing season during which environmental conditions can be tightly controlled allowing for increased production of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) per plant. The best growing conditions occur in enclosed spaces where the temperature can be regulated in a range between 70 and 95 degrees. A relative humidity between 50 percent and 90 percent is optimal for the production of marijuana plants containing higher levels of THC, a temperature and humidity level also optimal for fungal growth and production of mold. Such fungal growth can present both short and long term health threats to humans.

A grower can incorporate other tactics to increase the potency of their product. By elevating carbon dioxide levels within the enclosed space, a grower can dramatically increase the THC content of the marijuana plant. A desirable level of carbon dioxide for increased THC production is in a range of 700 ppm to 2000 ppm. Normally occurring concentrations of carbon dioxide exist in the amount of 300 ppm to 400 ppm. Open burning of natural gas or the discharging of compressed carbon dioxide cylinders are often used to reach the targeted levels of carbon dioxide in the growing space. The grower may also apply fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and control insects and disease.

These practices can create health concerns when grow operations occur in multifamily housing units or in homes or other locations where children or persons with compromised medical conditions may reside.

Reitan is chief of police in West Fargo.