Crisis Averted: Martha’s Vineyard Will Have Enough Pot This Summer After All

Until recently, Geoff Rose, the proprietor of a cannabis business on Martha’s Vineyard, believed he was in for a bleak summer.

That was because his marijuana dispensary, Island Time, had run out of product — and it seemed as if he would be unable to replace it during the busy tourist season on the 96-square-mile Massachusetts island that has long been a haven for vacationers.

But on Thursday, state regulators issued an order that would allow cannabis products to be transported across the ocean to licensed businesses.

Mr. Rose closed his shop — temporarily, as it turns out — on May 14. At the time, the display cases were empty. No gummies. No tinctures. No pre-rolls. The only item of interest to some of his customers was the chocolate.

“I believe there were 14 chocolate bars left,” Mr. Rose said in a phone interview. “They were the last to be sold. More than 14 people came in. Some were disappointed: ‘I don’t want chocolates.’ But some said, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’”

The shortage, first reported by The Associated Press, had to do with conflicting laws surrounding the sale and transport of marijuana.

In 2016, Massachusetts voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, including on Martha’s Vineyard, but the state’s Cannabis Control Commission did not want to risk violating federal law by allowing cannabis products to be taken across the ocean, which is part of federal territory. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 24 states, but it is considered a crime at the federal level.

For pot shops of Martha’s Vineyard and nearby Nantucket, this legal discrepancy created a serious supply-chain snag.

When Mr. Rose, 77, opened Island Time three years ago, he solved the issue by contracting with Fine Fettle, a dispensary and cultivator with a growing facility on Martha’s Vineyard, to be his cannabis provider.

It was an odd business arrangement between competitors, one born of necessity, and it never quite worked for either party. “The truth is, wholesaling to Geoff was not covering the bills,” said Benjamin Zachs, 35, the chief executive of Fine Fettle.

In recent weeks, because of the dissipating supply of marijuana on the island, Fine Fettle’s shop on Martha’s Vineyard was also running low, Mr. Zachs added. He planned to close the island dispensary when product ran out in September.

Mr. Rose, of Island Time, grew concerned that his business was overly reliant on a single provider. And when he sensed that Fine Fettle was struggling late last year, he said he reached out to the Cannabis Control Commission.

He hoped to contract with a grower on the mainland and bring in the product by boat, just like any other commercial good. In March, he called a mainland provider and placed an order. The shipment was delivered to him. He then received a notice from the commission that the goods were on administrative hold and that he could not sell them.

“Their response was, ‘Well, it’s federally illegal,’” Mr. Rose recalled.

At the same time, the Green Lady, the first pot dispensary to open on Nantucket, was having similar troubles with regulators. The business couldn’t send product from its island growing operation to its store on the mainland, in Newton, Mass., according to one of the owners, Nicole Campbell.

Last month, Mr. Rose filed a lawsuit against the Cannabis Control Commission. He was joined by the owners of the Green Lady. In the suit, the island dispensaries called the commission’s policy “arbitrary, unreasonable, and inconsistent” and argued that it “subjects them to extreme financial burdens not endured by their mainland competitors.”

In effect, they were asking the state to allow them to ship pot across the water. There was precedent for such action: California law allows the transport of cannabis to Catalina Island, and marijuana flows between islands in Hawaii.

“This was a crisis situation for me,” Mr. Rose said.

The commission’s change of course on Thursday suggests that his legal gambit appears to have worked.

Mr. Zachs, of Fine Fettle, said he was pleased by the order, though it will mean changes for how his company operates. The regulation change “happened so fast and so shockingly,” he wrote in an email, that “we are now actively assessing options based on this decision.”

Mr. Zachs added that such whipsaw shifts in the rules and regulations governing cannabis sales are par for the course.

“This is exactly what you sign up for,” he said. “You know the rules could change on you in a moment.”

Mr. Rose, reached by phone on the day after the settlement, breathed an audible sigh of relief. He has been spending much of his time consulting with his lawyers and fretting about the future of his business.

“This has been stressful, anxiety provoking, a roller coaster,” he said.

In other words, he could have used some of his own product.

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