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Many questions, few answers to growing pot in N.D.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota voters’ approval of medical marijuana makes state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring’s life a little more complicated.

“This is a whole new area that makes my chest tighten,” Goehring said when asked if medical marijuana will be grown in North Dakota.

Sixty-four percent of state voters on Nov. 8 supported Measure 5, which allows qualifying patients to possess up to 3 ounces of medical marijuana for treatment of about a dozen conditions. North Dakota became the 27th state to allow such use; in Montana, one of the 27, voters just rolled back restrictions on an existing medical pot law.

North Dakota farmers already grow a wide range of crops, including very small amounts of industrial hemp. Marijuana and hemp are considered cousin crops, although smoking hemp doesn’t produce a high.

Goehring has been a strong supporter of industrial hemp, and the state ag department plays a key role in its fledgling production in North Dakota.

But growing medical marijuana raises its own questions and concerns, Goehring said.

For instance, “Where will they (potential growers) get the seed? It’s a controlled substance,” he said.

Other of Goehring’s concerns include:

  • Where will medical marijuana be processed? And under whose oversight?

  • Will farmers who grow it be required to register their fields? Growing marijuana too close to industrial hemp can lead to cross-pollination that could prevent the hemp from being sold.

  • Who, if anyone, will oversee and approve chemicals that marijuana farmers might apply to their crop?

“I understand the measure passed. But we’ve got to be careful with respect to this: the rules and regulations that will be built around it,” Goehring said.

His “biggest fear,” he said, is that “we’ll probably be dealing with a whole new, different set of growers who will be doing whatever they want.”

“This is a quagmire,” he said. “I can see it will keep me up at night at first until we get some things straightened out.”