The same factors that drive up Vineyard prices for basic goods extend to illegal drugs, according to Island law enforcement, with heroin and cocaine selling for two to four times more on the Island than off. But while the Island might be a lucrative destination for drug sales, police said drug arrests are not on the rise.
“Drugs have always gone for unbelievable prices out here,” said state police Sgt. Jeff Stone, the coordinator of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force. “It’s just not something new,” he said.
One gram of cocaine could be sold for $100, Sergeant Stone said, “which off-Island is just unheard off.” Elsewhere, he said, a gram would go for $50 to $60.
In the wake of a bust last week, Edgartown Det. Michael Snowden told the Gazette that the price of heroin has gone up over the last few months, with the drug selling on the Vineyard for nearly four times the rate off-Island. Heroin here is sold for $200 per half gram, he said, compared with $100 per gram a year ago. Off-Island in Brockton heroin sells for about $60 a gram, he said.
Though data wasn’t immediately available, police officers interviewed this week agreed that they have not seen an increase in drug arrests. Detective Snowden said the drug task force has adjusted its focus, though, from those possessing small drug amounts to those with larger amounts. And during the past few years the task force has focused on individuals with no ties to the Island who come here to sell drugs.
Oak Bluffs Det. Nicholas Currelli stressed that he didn’t think rates of drug arrests have increased, and said that over the last 10 years, the amount of drugs found on those arrested has actually decreased.
“What it is now is you have a lot more smaller-level people out here trying to make money,” he said.
Nevertheless police departments are kept busy during the winter months with drug investigations. Last week the drug task force arrested two Brockton men who allegedly came to the Island to sell heroin; Detective Snowden said it appeared they were trying to start doing business on the Island. The task force executed a search warrant at a Vineyard Haven hotel and arrested the two men, who allegedly had about three grams of heroin, having sold the rest of their supply.
Island residents, too, have been arrested on drug charges. In early February, a Vineyard Haven man was arraigned in Edgartown district court on several charges, including trafficking in heroin.
Police allegedly found 18.5 grams of heroin at Jeffrey Moore’s Walker Way apartment, as well as suboxone and methadone pills.
According to the police report, police believed that Mr. Moore allegedly purchased the drugs in Providence, R.I., where he said it cost $70 per gram.
Last summer, the drug task force arrested a New York woman and charged her with cocaine trafficking after she came to the Island with more than 270 grams of cocaine, part of what police said was an operation to bring large amounts of drugs from the Hollis, Queens area of New York to the Vineyard.
Mitefea Kelly, 19, was later indicted and pleaded guilty in superior court last month to a reduced charge.
In court at the time, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard said that Ms. Kelly would come to the Island for a week at a time and then go back to New York. She was allegedly associated with a group of men from New York, she said, who would usually come to the Island with a female who would “mule” the drugs.
The increase in price does make the Island a lucrative market for those selling drugs, police officers said. Sergeant Stone said an ounce of cocaine, which could be purchased for $600 in a major city off-Island, could bring in $2,800 on the Island.
“It’s enticing for the people to try to come down,” he said.
Drugs are more expensive “just like the price of gasoline is higher, the price of food is higher,” Sergeant Stone said. People have to travel to get here, he said, and those on-Island looking to buy illegal substances face the same limitations other shoppers face: geography limits options and the price of travel to the Island contributes to high prices.
“Drugs have to come from off-Island,” Detective Currelli, also a drug task force member, said. And as for the high prices, “Supply and demand. It’s economics,” he said.
“It’s easy for them to come down here,” Detective Snowden said. “They’re not getting shot at, they don’t have to worry about being robbed. It’s an Island, it’s a vacation for them. They make twice, quadruple the money . . . they’re very comfortable.” He added that in the off-season, hotel rates are down.
But conversely, the Island makes it easy for law enforcement to notice when people show up on the Island to sell.
A lot of those who come to the Vineyard for drug business “stick out like sore thumbs,” Sergeant Stone said. “They don’t know it’s a small community. It’s easy to spot.”
“There are many more constraints here,” Detective Currelli said. “The Island is a small place.”
Those buying the drugs range from residents with addiction problems to summer visitors. But “prices are a year-round problem,” Sergeant Stone said. “Obviously more gets sold in the summertime.”
The drug task force works to combat the problem through weekly or biweekly meetings, where the 15 or so members discuss what’s happening on the Island and make a plan of action. And since fall 2011, a new member of the task force has helped fight drugs: Buster, a black Labrador who, among other tasks, helps detect drugs.
“Just because we’re on an Island doesn’t mean we don’t get a significant amount of drugs trafficked to this Island,” Detective Snowden said.