Up to speed on weed

An Islander’s efforts to market marijuana in Oak Bluffs.

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Beau Sander Henderson is another cog on the wheel of a slow-going effort to make weed something you can walk into a store and buy. The Oak Bluffs resident is in the beginning stages of obtaining a recreational marijuana retail license, which is different from medical licensure. Before getting into Henderson’s efforts, here are some key differences between medical and recreational marijuana:

  • Recreational marijuana sales are taxed — about 17 percent goes to the state, and up to an additional 3 percent can go to the town. Medical marijuana sales are not taxed.
  • The state has approved multiple medical marijuana dispensaries, including Patient Centric, the Island’s only approved medical marijuana dispensary, in West Tisbury. As of last week, the state approved its first recreational dispensary in Leicester.
  • Medical marijuana is controlled by the Department of Public Health; recreational marijuana is regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission.
  • Medical marijuana dispensaries can deliver product to patients. Recreational marijuana dispensaries cannot — yet. Delivery licensure for recreational marijuana could begin in 2019.
  • Recreational and medical strains can be different. For example, medicinal strains can contain higher THC potency limits than recreational strains. In recreational edibles, there is a THC cap of 5 milligrams. There is no THC cap for medicinal edibles.
  • Anyone over 21 can walk into a recreational pot shop and walk out with weed. Medical dispensaries can only distribute to people with medical recommendations from a doctor.

Henderson believes a recreational facility in Oak Bluffs would be a good thing for the town and community. “I think the tide is changing, and the perception of cannabis is changing,” Henderson said in an interview with The Times. He referenced a recent health study that states ease of access to recreational and medical marijuana is linked to a decrease in opioid use. “There’s a huge opioid crisis on Martha’s Vineyard,” Henderson said. “Everyone knows an addict. A [recreational facility] is a way to exit the opioid epidemic.

According to Henderson, recreational cannabis can also help with insomnia, appetite, and stress. As the commission continues to roll out approvals for recreational licensure across the state, it becomes apparent that ease of access is harder for coastal communities like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

“If I go to a dispensary in New Bedford, I can’t technically take [cannabis] on the boat back to the Island,” Henderson said. “It’s a waterway, which is a federal zone controlled by federal aviation. It’s technically illegal.”

Tax money will also benefit the town, which is at the core of Henderson’s efforts. “The utmost importance is to cater to the community here,” he said. “I’m not focused on the short-term agenda, or putting money in my pockets. I want to empower and employ people, especially other minorities.”

Part of Henderson’s efforts are aimed at economic inclusion, which is considered by the marijuana industry when approving licensure. According to Henderson, state Sen. Julian Cyr was instrumental in including in the bill language that applicants from communities such as African Americans, negatively affected by the “war on drugs,” are given priority.

“African Americans represent 20 percent of our population, and should represent 20 percent of marijuana licensure,” Henderson said.

Henderson has begun preliminary talks with Oak Bluffs officials to feel out where the town stands.

“We are in full support of the proper and responsible zoning of cannabis operations in Oak Bluffs,” planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins told The Times.

Dispensary locations have to be within the zoning regions determined by the town. According to Hopkins, recreational and medical marijuana zones are the same in Oak Bluffs — they essentially surround the hospital. To see the full zoning areas, visit the town of Oak Bluffs website.

“The important thing to highlight is the planning board saw there are two distinct considerations,” Hopkins said. “One — Is this an appropriate source of commerce in the community? We wanted to make a decision independent from mandates on the state. We heard a resounding ‘yes’ from the people of Oak Bluffs.

“Second — Where is it appropriate? It was very clear that we did not want cannabis commerce happening downtown on Circuit Ave. We purposely overlaid zoning to exclude commercial areas. We want to make sure people’s voices are heard. Does cannabis have a place in our community, and where is that place? The town has spoken, there’s a place for cannabis commerce in Oak Bluffs.”

According to the Cannabis Control Commission website, applicants have to have an approved address before they can begin the application process.

“It’s a good thing,” Henderson said. “They’re trying to ensure that businesses succeed, and that people aren’t just holding on to licenses.”

Henderson is talking to property owners and landlords to figure out where a recreational dispensary might have a home in Oak Bluffs. He plans to apply for a license that will allow him to cultivate, manufacture, and retail nonmedical marijuana. “Nonmedical” and “adult-use” are interchangeable terms for recreational, which has come up as controversial.

“We don’t use the R word,” Hopkins said. “The connotation of ‘recreational’ is inconsistent with the use. I don’t hear people talking about recreational drinking. Is it for medical, or nonmedical? Recreational confuses the effort.”

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Glassman, a geriatric doctor and prescriber of medical cannabis on Martha’s Vineyard, agrees. “I’m not a fan of the term recreational,” he said. “I don’t believe in recreational intoxication of any drug.”

In terms of timeline, according to Hopkins, the permitting process is pretty straightforward. “There’s nothing that would elongate the process for cannabis than any other legal commercial operation,” he said. “As long as the zones are defined, the permitting criteria is defined, I don’t see it taking any longer than it would opening a T shirt shop.”