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Commentary: Rancher who ran afoul of EPA granted medical marijuana license

Mike McFeely, Oct. 17, 2015. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

Properly and legally handling deadly chemicals is apparently not one of the criteria the state of North Dakota held in high regard when granting licenses to grow medical marijuana.

David Meyer, a rancher from Flasher, N.D., was one of two businessmen granted a license to manufacture medical marijuana, according to a press release from the North Dakota Department of Health last week. Meyer, doing business as Pure Dakota LLC, was given the Bismarck growing facility while an LLC from Chicago will operate the facility in Fargo.

Meyer appeared briefly in news stories during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests south of Bismarck-Mandan because he and his wife sold about 7,000 acres of ranchland, including the historic Cannonball Ranch, to DAPL parent company Energy Transfer Partners. The Cannonball Ranch was central to Native American protesters, who believed the land sacred.

But Meyer was in the news briefly prior to the protests flaring up, too. And that is more central to a discussion of growing medical marijuana.

Meyer was slapped with an enforcement order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April 2016 after neighbors near his Meyer Ranch, which straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border, reported seeing dead prairie dogs and bald eagles on Meyer's property, according to EPA documents.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Game and Fish Department, a pesticide inspector from the tribe and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent initially investigated and found Meyer had misapplied a rodenticide called Rozol to about 5,400 acres on the Meyer Ranch.

After talking with tribal and federal authorities, Meyer also admitted to applying Rozol in a similar manner on 7,000 acres of the Cannonball Ranch.

Rozol is a restricted-use pesticide — meaning you have to be certified to legally apply it — commonly used to kill prairie dogs. EPA documents say Meyer was not a certified applicator. They say the labels on Rozol containers clearly state it should be applied by hand scoop or mechanical bait application machine at least 6 inches below the ground. Meyer admitted to tossing the contents of 22 1,800-pound bags of the poison on the wide areas of his ranch using 5-gallon pails and a spoon, according to EPA documents.

While effective in killing prairie dogs, as evidenced by the dead animals on Meyer's ranches, tossing Rozol on the ground is dangerous to predators, livestock, birds and humans for weeks until the poison breaks down. Investigators found at least six dead bald eagles, which would scavenge on the dead prairie dogs and ingest the poison.

EPA documents also show Meyer did not properly clean up and dispose of dead prairie dogs, an action meant to stop predators and scavengers from feeding on the poisoned carcasses.

Rozol deaths aren't particularly pleasant, nor quick. EPA documents say Rozol is an anticoagulant that prevents the formation of blood clots when ingested, causing smaller capillaries to rupture. That causes internal bleeding resulting in death, sometimes taking "days to weeks for an animal to die after consuming a lethal dose."

Reached by phone Friday, May 18, Meyer wouldn't address the EPA documents, but said the news media have inaccurately reported the sale price of Cannonball Ranch and a quarantine of his buffalo herd at Cannonball.

"Nothing ever came of it," Meyer said when asked about the EPA enforcement order. "You guys have been reporting it all wrong."

Killing bald eagles is a federal crime under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, but a USFWS spokesman said there's been no resolution in Meyer's case. Killing one eagle could bring up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Multiple killings could be considered a felony, punishable by a maximum fine of $250,000 and two years in prison.

Asked if the North Dakota Department of Health was aware of Meyer's EPA violation, Medical Marijuana Division Director Jason Wahl said he couldn't comment. Wahl said he couldn't talk about Meyer's Pure Dakota LLC application because information in it is confidential by state law.

"What I can say is that the Department of Health established a panel of seven individuals with varying backgrounds and expertise. They participated in a blind selection process in which names were not part of the process when they looked at the submitted information," Wahl said.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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