West Tisbury selectmen want marijuana dispensary to stay put

Opposition by school superintendent is clincher, but final call awaits ZBA hearing Thursday, February 23.

Geoff Rose is seeking permission to put a marijuana dispensary in West Tisbury. – Edie Prescott

Geoffrey Rose, who holds a provisional license for selling medical marijuana, has tried for four years to open a medical marijuana dispensary in West Tisbury. His efforts were thwarted again Wednesday, Feb. 22, at a packed house selectmen’s meeting.

Mr. Rose’s proposed relocation of his planned dispensary to 90 Doctor Fisher Road is only 0.7 of a mile from the West Tisbury School. The last proposed location, 505 State Road, was just 0.3 of a mile from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School at 424 State Road, that proposed location had won a “letter of non-opposition” from selectmen.

To change his proposed dispensary location, Mr. Rose must get a new “letter of non-opposition” from selectmen, but after hearing from Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVYPS) superintendent Matthew D’Andrea and others in the audience, and with selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter’s inability to vote on the issue because a family member is an abutter to 90 Doctor Fisher Road, board chairman Richard Knabel and selectman Cynthia Mitchell said they could not support the location change at this time.

MVYPS assistant superintendent Richard Smith was also in attendance and he accompanied Mr. D’Andrea.

The zoning board of appeals (ZBA) will hear Mr. Rose’s request on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 5:15 pm at town hall. Selectmen said they would see how the ZBA decides.

Mr. Rose must get approval from both the ZBA and the selectmen, as well as letters of non-opposition from each, in order to move forward at the Doctor Fisher Road site.

“The primary reason [for the move] is I am now required to have on-site an independent testing laboratory for all product samples,” Mr. Rose said. Mainland marijuana dispensaries send their samples to a mainland lab.

“I continue to have to deal with the issue of traversing federal waters – I am unable to do that,” Mr. Rose said. “The Department of Public Health is requiring me to have an independent laboratory on the site of my registered marijuana dispensary. To serve the patient needs, I am required to do this.”

Mr. Knabel asked Mr. Rose to explain the problem with “federal waters.”

Mr. Rose replied that there is no form of transportation that can deliver marijuana products over federal waters and that the waters between Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland are federal waters.

“[The Steamship Authority], which came out very specifically – because they are a Coast Guard regulated entity – said they could not allow the transport of marijuana on their ferries,” Mr. Rose said.

The state Department of Public Health did not approve Mr. Rose’s offer of alternatives to the Steamship Authority for transport of his product.

“Federally, the possession of marijuana is still illegal – that’s the piece that’s missing to this,” Mr. Manter said.

“Is that the bottom line?” Mr. Knabel asked.

“That is the bottom line, and the state will not, in any way, authorize an entity to not comply with federal law,” Mr. Rose said.

Mr. Rose said that 505 State Road does not have the additional space that he now needs.  Asked if he has looked at other locations, Mr. Rose said he has not.

The neighborhood of Doctor Fisher Road is considered “light industrial,” according to Mr. Rose, who added that he did not know if there were homes in the area, and that he did not think that additional traffic would be a problem, because any patient using the dispensary would be there on an “appointment-only basis.”

“I know that you’re in a hard place here because the voters voted for marijuana,” resident Susan Wasserman said.

“The vote to legalize medical marijuana was at the state level, Nov 6, 2012,” town clerk Tara Whiting told The Times Thursday via email. West Tisbury voted overwhelmingly in favor of that.  The vote which passed recently in November, was for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which passed in West Tisbury by about the same margin.

“I don’t live anywhere near this proposed location, but there are people who live on the Doctor Fisher Road. If it were in my neighborhood, I couldn’t imagine the additional traffic,” Ms. Wasserman said.  “If it does belong in a business district then it belongs in an area like State Road, where there is already quite a bit of traffic. I just came [here tonight] because as a general community sense, this is not a good idea.”

“I am concerned about the dispensary being so close to the West Tisbury School,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “We work very hard to have our students make healthy choices and to stay away from substance use, and I fear that having this type of business as close as it would be to the school might send the wrong message to our students. I just ask that you don’t support this.”

Mr. D’Andrea said he knows the federal regulation is for the dispensary to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school, and although he thinks the proposed marijuana dispensary is outside of that, ”It is close enough where our students will know it’s there, and they’ll know what it’s used for, and I think it will split from the message we are trying to give our students.”

West Tisbury science teacher Karl Nelson opposed the proposed location.

“Marijuana dispensaries later turn into marijuana retail stores,” Mr. Nelson said, who added, “I pulled up Google Maps and it’s just shy of 3,000 feet from the [West Tisbury] school.”

Mr. Nelson also cited a study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “The study shows real problems with having dispensaries in neighborhoods, and really a lot of thought should be given to where you put them, so it minimally affects the parts of the population that are vulnerable to its misuse – in particular, students. To be that close to a school, I really think it’s a bad idea.”

Dispensary board member Doug Ruskin addressed some facts.

“I just want to point out this is a medical (marijuana) dispensary, and you can’t get in without a medical marijuana card, and you can’t get in if you are under 18 – and in order to convert a medical dispensary into a recreational dispensary, it is an entire separate licensing process,” dispensary board member Doug Ruskin said.

“I am equally concerned, and if it is a concern to the school about proximity and location, then it’s something we would support as well,” Youth Task Force’s Theresa Manning said. “There needs to be a lot of thought to the proximity to youth.”

“It has been four years,” Mr. Rose said. “The patients of Dukes County deserve a dispensary.”

Ms. Mitchell spelled out why selectmen approved the 505 State Road location.

“There was not material opposition and (our letter of non-opposition) was specific to that location. To me, this is slightly different. I don’t think I could vote today without knowing more about how the town feels about it. I would like the zoning board of appeals to act before thinking about it further,” Ms. Mitchell said. “If there is any opposition there, it is premature for us to represent the town as non-oppositional.”

Mr. Knabel agreed he wanted to learn more from the town and thought the issue should go before town meeting. It is too late to be included on the April town meeting warrant, but if there is a special town meeting in the fall it might appear then.

“I do not believe we are ready to do this at this point,” Mr. Knabel said.

In other business, Richard Andre and Ron Dagostino were appointed to the energy committee, and selectmen approved the Vineyard Housing Bank’s citizen committee request for a proposed non-binding ballot question.

John Abrams and Island Housing Trust’s executive director Philippe Jordi said that the question will read, “Are you in favor of establishing a regional housing bank, to address the critical housing needs on the Vineyard?”

Mr. Knabel pointed out that West Tisbury has spent from 2006 through June 30, 2016, $3,863,263 on housing projects. “This represents essentially two-thirds of all of our CPA money during that period.”

Mr. Abrams and Mr. Jordi hope for approval from all six towns for the question to appear and for it to be supported.