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Details sparse on planned Fargo medical marijuana growing facility

Jason Wahl, the director of the North Dakota Department of Health's medical marijuana division, gives a presentation to the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee Monday, March 12, 2018, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Details remained sparse late this week about the medical marijuana manufacturing facility planned for Fargo.

The North Dakota Department of Health named Grassroots Cannabis as one of two entities selected by an application review panel this week. The department said the organization would locate its facility in Fargo, but information from its application is confidential under state law.

Meanwhile, officials who appeared to be associated with the venture didn't return messages seeking information about their plans.

Donald Kress, a planning coordinator for the city of Fargo, said Friday, May 18, the department verified the facility's proposed location was allowed under zoning rules during the application process. He said the facility would fit under the city's general industrial and limited industrial zones.

"Just like if you're a restaurant and you want to build a new restaurant in a general commercial zone, you don't really need anything for that," Kress said. "You need a building permit, but you don't have to get a zone change."

Kress said the proposed location is also confidential under state law.

"The information in the application doesn't have an expiration date for confidentiality," said Jason Wahl, the state's medical marijuana director. "It would be up to the two entities what, if anything, they wanted to disclose or more they wanted to disclose in regards to what's in their application."

The website for Grassroots Cannabis says it has a presence in six states: Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California. On its Facebook page Thursday, it teased its expansion into North Dakota.

"The Peace Garden State will have a new garden soon," it said.

Grassroots Cannabis' legal name in North Dakota, a limited liability company called GR Vending ND, shares the same Illinois address as another medical marijuana LLC called Greenhouse Group. That business operates four cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, according to its website.

The North Dakota Secretary of State's Office listed Steven Weisman as the organizer for GR Vending ND. Weisman was described by a Chicago Tribune-owned newspaper in 2015 as a former lawyer moving into the medical marijuana business.

Weisman's LinkedIn page lists him as the CEO of Windy City Cannabis, which has four dispensaries in the Chicago area, as well as the CEO of Grassroots Cannabis. Messages left for Weisman and two other men associated with Grassroots Cannabis and Greenhouse Group were not returned this week.

The two entities selected by the North Dakota review panel must take additional steps before becoming registered, Wahl said, such as paying a $110,000 certification fee. The other pick was Pure Dakota LLC, which will have a facility in Bismarck.

The state received 19 applications from those seeking to be registered medical marijuana growers.

State law allows for up to two growing facilities and eight dispensaries, although the Health Department could register more to increase patient access. Wahl was unsure when the application period for dispensaries would open.

Voters legalized medical marijuana at the ballot box in 2016, but state lawmakers, citing flaws, rewrote the law last year.

Meanwhile, the Health Department announced Friday that Keystone State Testing was awarded a state contract to perform laboratory services under the medical marijuana program. Keystone, which is doing business as Dakota State Testing, will test marijuana before it's transferred to a dispensary to ensure its safety.

State officials expect the accredited lab to be in Fargo as well, according to a news release.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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