Pot on the rock

Federal waters create big legal barrier.

While marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, getting it to the Island from one of the two pot shops that recently opened is problematic because it's still against the law federally and you have to cross federal waters to get to the Vineyard. — Gabrielle Mannino

Two pot shops opened in Leicester and Northampton last month, drawing visitors across the state by the thousands and revenue counted in millions. The historic opening may prompt Islanders to plan their next off-Island excursion with convenient stops in Hampshire or Worcester counties. But Islanders have to consider something that no one else has to — the legality of bringing marijuana back home.

There are only two ways to get to Martha’s Vineyard — by air or by sea — both of which are federal zones. Recreational marijuana is legal under state law, but still illegal under federal law. That being said, it’s unlawful to bring marijuana or marijuana products to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, even if you went as far as going to these legal recreational pot shops.

So who’s cracking down on this? It’s rare you’ll see police dogs or federal prosecutors snuffing out bags at Steamship Authority terminals, but that doesn’t mean officials aren’t taking it seriously. The Steamship operates over federal waters, and under federal guidelines by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“For as long as it’s federally illegal, it’s always going to be illegal to transit,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Nicole Groll told The Times. “All Coast Guard officers will enforce federal law. If it’s federally regulated, this is the way it’s going to be until they decide whether or not it should be federally regulated.”

According to Groll, if the Coast Guard comes across anyone with marijuana during boardings, the product will be seized, the person will be informed it’s federally illegal, and the Coast Guard will follow guidance for civil penalty. Sometimes cases are handed over to the state. If medical marijuana is found, it’s handled on a case-by-case basis.

In July 2018, Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the Massachusetts district, announced his office would focus more on marijuana enforcement linked to overproduction, sales to minors, and organized crime, as opposed to industry or consumer crackdowns.

In other words — be responsible. Don’t operative vehicles or vessels high, and you probably won’t run into much trouble.

“And please don’t take it on the water,” Groll said.

Geoff Rose, CEO of Patient Centric, the Island’s only registered medical marijuana facility, said he’s still exploring options for recreational marijuana licensure. In April, he filed initial paperwork with the Cannabis Control Commission for priority processing.

“But until I formally apply, that doesn’t have any impact,” he said.