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The pot thickens; Group proposes to start hydroponic medical marijuana farm in Bemidji

 Bemidji may be home to an indoor medical cannabis farm as soon as summer if a potential application is approved by the state.

A group from Bemidji plans to apply to the Minnesota Department of Health to become one of two locations in Minnesota where marijuana plants will be grown for the medical cannabis program approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Local health care professional Jake Chernugal plans to possibly put “Headwaters Health Center Medical Cannabis Manufacturers” in Bemidji.

In a presentation before the Bemidji City Council on Monday, Chernugal opened with an attempt to humanize the controversial statewide MDH program.

“When we’re talking about medical cannabis, we’re talking about people and we’re talking about patients,” he said. “People and patients with illnesses such as cancer, severe chronic pain, HIV, AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, seizures, and people with terminal illness (to) just name a few.”

After being grown and distilled onsite, the medical cannabis will then be distributed by the local MedSave Family Pharmacy, which Chernugal said is owned by his father. Three other distribution sites across the region will eventually be chosen, which were not identified in Chernugal’s written proposal submitted to the council before the meeting. Natural chemicals will be extracted and distilled from the marijuana plants and turned into medicinal treatments such as therapeutic oil and pills. The Department of Health excludes the smoking of full-leaf marijuana as a therapy method in the new program.

The state prohibits cannabis manufacturing or distribution facilities within 1,000 feet of a public or private school. However, as councilmember Nancy Erickson pointed out during the meeting, Leech Lake Head Start operates a facility next door to the proposed indoor cannabis farm on Fifth Street NW.

Chernugal said he only became aware of how close the proposed facility was to Head Start just before th

e start of the council meeting.

“I just found that out today, as a matter of fact, about five minutes before I walked in here,” he said. “That’s definitely something we’re going to address, and we’ll be looking for an alternative site.”

Erickson also asked him about pricing of the product. Chernugal gave a general example of about $55 per gram.

“When you look at a 30-day su

pply, people are going to be spending roughly around $400 a month,” Chernugal said. He did not say whether that included health insurance coverage.

Hydroponics, or growing plants with water and mineral mixtures instead of just soil, will be used for the Bemidji facility.

“Master growers for HHC will be using the method of hydroponics to grow medical cannabis, as this proven method has more predictable yields and a more controllable outcome,” Chernugal said in the written proposal.

Chernugal is also the co-chair of the Bemidji area chapter of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Two facilities

The state plans to allow two manufacturing facilities: one that serves the odd-numbered Minnesota U.S. Congressional Districts (Service Area A) and one that serves the even-numbered districts (Service Area B). Bemidji is located near the border between the Seventh District and Eighth Districts, and therefore is also near the boundary between Service Areas A and B.

Applications are due by Oct. 3, and a $20,000 application fee is required by MDH. Chernugal said HHC has raised the money, and that they 

plan to submit their application “in the first part of October.”

Manufacturers are required to have the ability to supply cannabis by July 1, but can request a six-month extension from the state. The Department of Health plans to name manufacturing semi-finalists on Oct. 30 and conduct site visits of the remaining applicants in early November. Finalists are planned to be selected sometime between Nov.17-26.

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