Islanders want their pot, too

Residents urge state commissioners to help them navigate federal obstacles

THE “LISTENING TOUR” by the board charged with regulating the state’s emerging marijuana industry landed on Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday, where the two members heard pleas from pro-pot advocates to help their island as well as Nantucket steer clear of the federal obstacles no other communities in Massachusetts face.

Chilmark artist Thaw Malin III (front row) urged Cannabis Control Commission members to loosen restrictions on the number of homegrown pot plants because of potential shortages on the islands.

About 70 people crowded into the West Tisbury Free Public Library on a sun-splashed, summer-like morning to remind Cannabis Control Commission members Kay Doyle and Britte McBride that regulations cannot be one-size-fits-all since the islands face special circumstances. Marijuana use is still illegal under US law, and federal oversight of the sea and air makes it impossible to transport marijuana to and from the islands without violating the law.

None of those who testified offered a solution to the jurisdictional problem, but the state law legalizing recreational marijuana includes an amendment mandating that the commission craft regulations that address the issue. Unless some new approach is found, many say marijuana will have to be grown, manufactured, and tested on the islands themselves, which probably will limit production and drive up the cost.

Geoffrey Rose of Oak Bluffs, who has been approved to open a medical marijuana dispensary in West Tisbury, pointed out that while the statute allows dispensaries in Massachusetts to transfer marijuana between each other in “emergency” situations, his location makes that benefit moot. That’s just one way he said Vineyard and Nantucket patients could lose out compared with their fellow mainland residents.

“Even though the testing samples themselves may be less than an ounce, we’re precluded from transporting on the ferry,” said Rose, who is also considering entering into the retail market if regulations are favorable. “We need to work together to find viable solutions.”

Dr. Marion McNabb of the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network told the commissioners that residents of Martha’s Vineyard face a higher risk of Lyme disease than most other areas of Massachusetts. She said early results of testing indicate medical marijuana “shows promise” in patients struggling with the disease and urged the commissioners to keep that in mind when reviewing the existing medical pot regulations.

McNabb’s colleague, Randal MacCaffrie, called on the board to work with federal officials to expand the reach of the so-called Rohrbach-Farr Amendment to cover recreational marijuana. The amendment, first passed in 2014 as part of a federal spending bill and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama, prohibits the Justice Department from spending money enforcing federal laws against the sale, transport, and use of medical marijuana in states that have legalized it. To benefit the islands, MacCaffrie said, the law would have to be expanded to include the Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration, which come under Homeland Security, not the Justice Department.

Some of those who spoke also expressed fears that marijuana demand on the islands could far outstrip supply, especially during tourist season. They pointed to the prohibitive cost of land that could limit the number of suitable growing sites. They urged the commissioners, who did not take questions, to revisit the current 12-plant limit for personal consumption, at least for those on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

“Next 4th of July, there will be 100,000 more people on the island,” said Thaw Malin III, an artist from Chilmark who said he started growing his own marijuana in the 1970s. “Will they buy all the marijuana on the island because they can?”

Kaylea Moore, the legislative liaison for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, read a joint statement from state Rep. Dylan Fernandes and Sen. Julian Cyr reminding the commissioners they are charged with making sure residents of the islands have the same rights as mainlanders.

“It is especially important to take into consideration that the Islands may be the only place in the state that are forced to grow their own marijuana,” the statement read. “Cookie-cutter state policy often does not fit the unique geography of Dukes and Nantucket counties and it is critical that the Cannabis Control Commission work to accommodate the Islands.”

A number of workers from the substance abuse treatment community said they were concerned about youth access and use. Theresa Manning, of the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition, said a 2016 survey found marijuana use by high school students on the island is 34 percent, compared to 24 percent statewide and 22 percent nationally.

Susan Bowman of West Tisbury said she rarely hears anything about the negative effects of marijuana and said the commission needs to make education a central part of regulations. She talked of a young family member whose disposition and personality changed when he began using marijuana. She said few educational materials were available to learn about the impact on developing brains, unlike other addictive drugs such as alcohol and nicotine.

“Let’s not neglect the negative potential for some,” she said. “There is apparently a small percentage of marijuana users who become addicted. Many people can drink alcohol with absolutely no problem at all but some cannot. Yet we educate about that but not about marijuana.”