Cannabis Control Commission lends an ear to Islanders

Listening session in West Tisbury on Tuesday was part of a statewide tour.

0

As expected, a full house was on hand at the West Tisbury library on Tuesday morning to take part in an hour-long “listening session,” presented by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).

Commission members Britte McBride, an attorney from Lynnfield, and Kay Doyle, former deputy general counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, were on hand to hear what Islanders have to say about future regulations regarding adult use of marijuana, and the current state of medicinal marijuana in the commonwealth.

The law passed by Massachusetts voters last year and later altered by the Legislature, designates at least 40 areas that the commission is directed to address with regulations and protocols. Most of the regulations must be in place no later than March 15.

During the session, Islanders and several off-Islanders shared comments and concerns about the upcoming changes in state marijuana law.  

No one spoke against adult use, or medical marijuana, although several people asked the Cannabis Control Commission to be vigilant when it comes to preventing youth access to recreational marijuana.

Island issues

A frequent topic was the unique geographic complication the Vineyard and Nantucket have when it comes to cannabis supply, processing, testing, and consumption. Although voters on both Islands overwhelmingly approved both adult use and medical marijuana at the ballot box, the federal government has jurisdiction over the waters and airspace between the Islands and the mainland. Technically, even possessing a seed of cannabis on federal waters or airspace is a federal offense.

Kaylea Moore, Island liaison for state Rep. Dylan Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr, who represent the Cape and Islands on Beacon Hill, read from a joint statement: “As you are well aware from your travels today, Martha’s Vineyard is unlike many cities and towns across the Commonwealth. The Island requires special accommodations that may not be applicable to the rest of Massachusetts . . . We filed and passed an Island specific amendment demanding the commission promulgate regulations to accommodate the Vineyard and Nantucket, and take into consideration the legal implications of their unique geography. … 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 Island reps also asked the commission to consider that the testing currently mandated in the state legislation may not be feasible on the Island.

“Cookie-cutter state policy often does not fit the unique geography of Dukes and Nantucket [counties] and it is critical that the Cannabis Control Commision work to accommodate the Islands.”

Geoff Rose, CEO of Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard, the only registered medical marijuana dispensary (RMD) on the Island, reiterated concerns about the geographical complications.

“I am required through my professional license to have an independent lab on site do all the testing unless otherwise approved by the Department of Health,” he said. “We’re precluded from sending samples to off-Island laboratories.”

Mr. Rose also expressed concern about transporting marijuana from off-Island in an emergency situation, such as vandalism or loss of crop.

“According to current regulations, an RMD may acquire cannabis from another RMD in an emergency situation if specific patient’s needs cannot be met. As it stands, we don’t have that option because of federal regulations. We need to work together to find viable solutions.”

Lucas Thayer, from the town of Harvard, asked the commission to allow for outdoor growing, rather than requiring indoor cultivation. “Growers were forced inside because of the illegal market,” he said. “The sun is the best grow light we have. There’s no need to require cannabis to be grown inside expensive buildings, no need to have it guarded by security guards that are paid way too much.” Mr. Thayer said limiting the number of plants that can be grown is “downright mean,” because plants are easily damaged. “I know a lot of growers who lost a lot of plants in the past two storms,” he said.

Dr. Marion McNabb, co-founder of Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, a clinical research organization based in Florida, said there is promising research in the antibacterial qualities of cannabis which could lead to an effective treatment for Lyme disease. She asked the commission to mandate increased training in medical cannabis for doctors and nurses, and advocated a “robust research component” in the legislation.

Randy MacCaffrie, the other co-founder of Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, told commissioners that Washington and Maine also face the “tricky prospect” of shipping cannabis over federal waters.

“Massachusetts can be a leader in designing some sort of legislation here,” he said.

Island resident Frederick Rundlet said he has prescription drugs sent from California through the mail, and the same should be applied to medical cannabis, where it is legal.

“If a person has a prescription in another state, it should be approved in other states where it is legal,” he said. “People with a prescription should be allowed travel from one legal state to another, the same as a person with a legal oxycodone prescription.”

Theresa Manning, coalition coordinator for the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force, said that the coalition does not have a position on adult-use cannabis, but she asked the commission to focus on reducing youth access. “Our last survey showed 34 percent of students at the high school use marijuana, the Massachusetts average is 24 percent, and across the U.S. it’s 22 percent. We hope there continues to be a dialogue about innovative practice to reduce youth access.”  

Aja Atwood of Mashpee, an engineer and cannabis cultivator, asked commissioners to stay away from production limits, building size, and “canopy size.”

“Craft cooperatives should be able to produce whatever it takes to meet demand,” she said. “A limitation on canopy size creates an unfair playing field that favors big growers.”

Ms. Atwood also suggested, to the strong approval of the room, that towns that voted “no” on legalization should not receive an equal share of the tax revenue from cannabis sales.

Susan Bowman of West Tisbury asked the commission to give due weight to the negative effects of cannabis on the developing brains of people under 25 years old. “There is apparently a small percentage of marijuana users who become addicted,” she said. Ms. Bowman said that a family member was diagnosed as bipolar, marijuana had helped trigger five episodes that required hospitalization. “Let’s educate about the negative impacts, like we do with alcohol and cigarettes,” she said.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services drug and alcohol counselor Howie Marlin also asked the commission to focus on education. “I have nothing to say about adult use, but I have a lot to say about adolescent use,” he said. “We’ve seen devastating results from lack of education. We have a tremendous opportunity to open the doors on substantive education. Let’s take advantage of this dialogue.”

The commission welcomes written comment from the public at CannabisCommission@state.ma.us.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Frederick Rundlet had medical cannabis sent from California. He has prescription drugs sent from California.