With the awarding of a state medical marijuana dispensary license for Dukes County still in flux, two leading Vineyard applicants are moving ahead with efforts to open a dispensary on the Island. But in addition to the need to clear a state licensure hurdle, another issue has surfaced around medical marijuana that is unique to the Island: how to get the product here.
State law allows for the sale of medical marijuana at approved dispensaries, but under federal law it is illegal to transport any form of marijuana by boat or plane.
Susan Sanford, the owner of Vineyard Complementary Medicine, received a special permit two weeks ago from the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals to operate a dispensary at her clinic, pending state license approval. It is the first special permit of its kind issued on the Vineyard.
And businessman Geoffrey Rose, doing business as Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard, has sued the state Department of Public Health over the license review process.
Other applicants are awaiting further information from the state Department of Public Health.
But if and when any applicants are awarded a license (to date 20 of 35 licenses have been awarded by the state with none for the Vineyard), getting marijuana to the Island could pose a challenge.
“The Coast Guard enforces federal law to include illegal possession or use of drugs, within all navigable waters of the U.S. regardless of any state medicinal marijuana laws,” Coast Guard spokesman Lieut. Joseph Klinker said this week.
“Use, sale or association with marijuana on navigable federal waters of the United States is illegal under federal law.”
And that was the message received by the Steamship Authority, general manager Wayne Lamson said.
“It cannot be transported,” Mr. Lamson said. “We checked this out with the Coast Guard to find out what their position was and they responded that it wasn’t allowed, so there’s a disconnect. There is no federal law that exempts shipment of medical marijuana. Whether they go through federal waters or not, the vessel is regulated by the Coast Guard and what can be carried is all under federal regulations,” he added.
Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby of Edgartown said he attended a training session on medical marijuana last week that covered a variety of topics, including the issuance of medical marijuana cards. But transportation is still a gray area, he said.
“The way it is right now, you’re not allowed to transport it,” he said. “It’s definitely not black and white.”
Last August, the U.S. Department of Justice said it will not challenge state laws that allow for medical and recreational use of marijuana as long as the state laws do not conflict with new federal enforcement priorities. Congress went one step further in May when it voted to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from spending funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws.
In 2012, Massachusetts passed a law that allows for up to 35 nonprofit, registered marijuana dispensaries. The law requires at least one but no more than five dispensaries in each county. Four counties were left out of the initial round of license approvals: Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes and Nantucket.
Four applicants from Dukes County had made it to the final application phase, including Ms. Sanford, Mr. Rose, Susan Wysocki (doing business as Kingsbury Group), and Michael Peters (doing business as MV Greencross).
DPH spokesman Dave Kibbe said there is nothing current to report on the counties where no provisional licenses have been issued.
Applicants were offered an opportunity to debrief with the department about the reasons why they were not selected, Mr. Kibbe said.
“Those meetings have concluded and the information from them is still being processed,” he said.
If approved for a license, Mr. Rose said he plans to cultivate and dispense on the Vineyard, getting around the transportation issue. The issue is a key point in his lawsuit against the state, Mr. Rose said.
“We feel that it is important that there be a dispensary with cultivation here on the Vineyard because that’s what federal law will allow,” he said.
Mr. Rose, who owns Our Island Club, a consumer savings program, is also considering a West Tisbury dispensary but has not applied for a special permit.
Ms. Sanford has secured her special permit from West Tisbury. She plans to cultivate, but in her application the location was not disclosed. She is partnering with a licensed medical marijuana dispensary and grower in Rhode Island.
At her hearing before the town zoning board of appeals last month, her proposal drew praise.
“If there’s going to be one it’s nice to have someone locally who has some medical and holistic training,” said board chairman Tucker Hubbell.
“It’s a really good application and you presented a good case for this,” added board member Bob Schwier.