Martha's Vineyard's pot problem will lead island to run out of marijuana (2024)

An 81-year-old woman on Martha's Vineyard drove up to the Island Time dispensary last week seeking her usual order of pot.

But owner Geoff Rose had to tell her the cupboard was bare - he'd been forced to temporarily close three weeks earlier after selling every last bud and gummy.

Unless something changes, the island's only other cannabis dispensary will sell all its remaining supplies by September at the latest, and Martha's Vineyard will run out of pot entirely, affecting more than 230 registered medical users and thousands more recreational ones.

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The problem boils down to location. Although Massachusetts voters opted to legalize marijuana more than seven years ago, the state's Cannabis Control Commission has taken the position that transporting pot across the ocean - whether by boat or plane - risks running afoul of federal laws.

That's despite a counterargument that there are routes to Martha's Vineyard that remain entirely within state territorial waters.

The issue led Rose to file a lawsuit last month against the commission, which now says that finding a solution to the island's pot problem has become a top priority. Three of the five commissioners visited Martha's Vineyard on Thursday to hear directly from affected residents.

The clash of state and federal laws has been a nationwide drama as states legalize marijuana. Take California, where the law explicitly permits transporting weed to Catalina Island shops, or Hawaii, which just last year tweaked its statutes to ease the movement of medical cannabis between its islands.

Meanwhile, federal authorities are rethinking their stance too. Just last month, the Justice Department considered downgrading cannabis to a less severe category, yet it remains off-limits for fun.

For a while, vendors on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket believed they'd avoided the need to bring any over the water.

However, Fine Fettle, the Connecticut company that was Martha's Vineyard's lone commercial grower and also managed the island's additional dispensary, informed Rose previously that it intended to cease cultivation on the island and would shut down its shop once stock depleted.

Benjamin Zachs, head of Fine Fettle's Massachusetts branch, said when they launched on Martha's Vineyard, they were aware that ferrying marijuana across federal waters was against the law.

"Candidly, when it started, we thought this was a good thing for business," Zachs remarked. "A captured market."

However, as pot became more affordable and diverse on the Massachusetts mainland, the costs of employing testers on the island increased, making such a specialized operation unsustainable, according to Zachs. He noted that many individuals bring their own supplies via the ferry.

Yet for those residing on the island, taking the ferry to purchase marijuana can be costly and time-consuming. There's no dispensary in Woods Hole, where the ferry docks, so they either have to take an Uber from there or bring a car, and vehicle space is highly sought after during the summer.

This leaves medical users like Sally Rizzo questioning how they will obtain marijuana. She finds the drug beneficial for her back issues and insomnia.

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"The nice thing about getting it at a dispensary is that you can tell them specifically what you're looking for, and know the milligrams, and know the potency, and what's in it," Rizzo said, who provided an affidavit in support of Rose's lawsuit.

Rose, 77, has been a resident of Martha's Vineyard for over two decades and launched his Island Time store three years ago. For the time being, he's maintaining his core staff of five on the payroll.

The dispensary's green logo appears to be a laid-back version of the famous Starbucks emblem, featuring a woman enjoying a flower's scent beneath the phrase "Stop and smell the flower."

However, these days, Rose is far from relaxed. "I'm on the verge of going out of business," he said. "While I acknowledge the efforts of the commission to address the issue, I really felt that the only way to get some immediate relief was to file a lawsuit. I was not going to sit on the sidelines. I had to do something."

Rose was joined in his lawsuit by the Green Lady dispensary on Nantucket, which for now continues to have its own homegrown supply but also faces the same high costs of onsite testing.

In the lawsuit, Rose outlines how he told the commission in November that his business faced an existential crisis because Fine Fettle would no longer be growing pot. In March, he took a chance by buying some pot on the mainland and shipping it across on the ferry.

But the commission ordered Rose to stop selling the product he'd shipped over, putting it into an administrative hold. The commission eventually released the marijuana a few weeks later but told Rose he couldn't ship over anymore.

In his suit, Rose complains about the commission's "arbitrary, unreasonable, and inconsistent policy against transport over state territorial waters."

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Island Time is represented by Vicente, a firm that specializes in cannabis cases. It agreed to delay an emergency injunction against the commission until June 12 after the commission said it would enter into settlement discussions.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to reach resolution, but if we can't, we'll be prepared to make the arguments in court," stated Vicente attorney Adam Fine.

Up until last week, the commission had a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, except to clarify that there were no special provisions for transporting marijuana from the mainland to the islands. However, during a visit to Martha's Vineyard, commissioners reassured locals that they were all on the same wavelength.

"Obviously, this is a super priority for us, because we don't want to see the collapse of an industry on the islands," expressed commissioner Kimberly Roy.

She mentioned that no one could have predicted such a supply chain issue and they are keen to resolve it.

"It's a funny juxtaposition," she commented. "The entire industry is federally illegal. But that's evolving, too. We are just trying to stay responsive and nimble."

Martha's Vineyard's pot problem will lead island to run out of marijuana (2024)

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