Reefer madness

Across Martha’s Vineyard neighborhoods Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, residents were understandably surprised and alarmed to see an unmarked black helicopter with men peering down from it hovering over their neighborhoods at low altitude.

The noisy intrusion sparked calls to local police departments, the Island Communications Center, and The Times. Social media was abuzz. What was all the fuss about?

The crew of the low-flying black helicopter was scanning the woodlands and backyards of Martha’s Vineyard, seeking homegrown pot. And they were successful. Marijuana was found growing in every Island town. The total haul was 460 plants ripped out of backyard gardens and transported off-Island to be destroyed.

As near as The Times could learn, this was part of a grant-funded Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marijuana search undertaken in cooperation with the Massachusetts National Guard and State Police.

It would be interesting to know just how much this silly operation cost the taxpayers. Surely, these resources could have been put to better use, for example, going after heroin dealers, a drug that has a much more measurable impact on the community.

For decades, murderous Mexican criminal enterprises have grown rich feeding the U.S. demand for pot. Times have changed.

Marijuana has been decriminalized. State-permitted clinics now sell marijuana for medical use, and voters this November will have the opportunity to legalize the weed. It ought to be clear to law enforcement professionals and government bureaucrats that the public sees little merit in an aerial assault against neighbors who grow their own pot.

In several instances, one of which Barry Stringfellow reports on this week, the marijuana confiscation team took plants from people who grew marijuana for medical use. They included Paul Jackson of Edgartown, 81, a cancer patient whose gardening skills are renowned across the Island. The helicopter team ripped up his four plants.

State law allows registered medical users to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana. The Department of Public Health has defined a 60-day supply of marijuana to be 10 ounces, or the equivalent in other forms (such as edible marijuana-infused products).

The DPH advises police, “To determine what the equivalent amount of a 60-day supply is for marijuana concentrate (oil) and resin (hash), DPH has determined that marijuana plant material will, on average, yield 15% of its weight in concentrate or resin. Thus, to determine the equivalent weight of a concentrate or resin, multiply the weight of the oil/resin by 6.7 to determine the dry weight equivalent.” Policing pot used to be so much simpler.

State law (Chapter 369) also allows qualifying patients to apply for a hardship cultivation registration, which would allow the patient, or the patient’s designated personal caregiver, to cultivate marijuana at home for the patient’s own use, according to DPH.

In a bit of logic only a government agency could come up with, plants may be grown, but not under conditions that are conducive to growing plants — for example, in a garden exposed to sunshine and rain.

“Marijuana may be cultivated and stored only in an enclosed, locked area not visible to the public at the patient’s or caregiver’s primary residence (not both),” DPH states.

DPH has also “not defined a maximum number of plants that may be grown, but there should be no more than what is necessary to meet the patient’s individual needs.”

On Monday, a hospital group that includes the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the VA Boston Healthcare System announced its opposition to marijuana legalization. “The health and safety of Massachusetts residents and the communities we serve has always been a priority for our hospitals,” John Fernandez, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and chairman of the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, said in a statement. “Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana carries with it dangerous public health consequences.”

Conference executive director John Erwin said the focus needs to remain on addressing the opioid epidemic. “Our focus should be on continuing that critical work, and legalization of marijuana and the proven adverse public health impacts will only make that job harder,” he said.

Society continues to wrestle with evolving norms with respect to marijuana use, while police try to keep up with changing laws. This page does not suggest that the law be flouted.

The issue is priorities. Spending two days ripping up 460 plants on Martha’s Vineyard is not a good use of scarce resources, and is not where the focus ought to be.