Massachusetts marijuana-laws forum draws a crowd in Oak Bluffs

‘Smoke Bluffs?’ panel reviews state rules; helpful gardening tips too.


Turnout was high at the Oak Bluffs Public Library (OBPL) on Thursday night for “Smoke Bluffs?” a panel discussion moderated by OBPL program coordinator Nathaniel Luce, which delved into the details of the recently passed recreational marijuana law in Massachusetts that took effect on Dec. 15, 2016. The state of medical marijuana on the Island, and organic gardening tips for people who want to grow their own cannabis, now permitted under the new law, were also discussed.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding, and we’re here tonight to try to inform you,” Mr. Luce said. “We have three consummately knowledgeable folks from around the spectrum.”

The panelists were Oak Bluffs Police Department detective and attorney James Morse, renowned organic gardener Paul Jackson, and Geoff Rose, CEO of Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard, which is on track to become the Island’s first medical marijuana dispensary.

The vast majority of the crowd were baby boomers. Judging by the lively discussion with Mr. Jackson, a high percentage were also gardeners.

Budding movement

In November, 54 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, “a measure to legalize marijuana while regulating it in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages.” Sixty-two percent of Oak Bluffs voted yes.

The law will allow anyone more than 21 years old to legally possess and consume recreational marijuana, but many details about how that may be done remain fuzzy, partly because, Mr. Morse said, legislators on Beacon Hill continue to bat the law around.

“This law is going to be changing and evolving,” he said. “You are still free to smoke, and free to grow at home, while the legislature tinkers with it.”

Speaking the night before President Trump’s Inauguration, Mr. Morse said that while federal law still supersedes state law, things might change very quickly.

“Marijuana is still an illegal substance, according to federal law. At the drop of a hat, the federal government could enjoin [medical marijuana] dispensaries from operating. It’s not an issue with the current administration, but as of 1:01 pm tomorrow, the great unknown is coming.”

Mr. Morse said a good rule of thumb for using recreational weed is to use the same discretion, and common sense, as one would with alcohol.

“There are certain things, just like alcohol, that if you were to do, you’re going to run afoul of the constabulary,” he said. “If you’re thinking, ‘Is this an appropriate place to have a drink?’ or ‘Would I do this in a motor vehicle?’ and the answer is no, chances are you’re breaking the law.”

An open container of marijuana in a car is illegal. Any marijuana in a car must be in a sealed container in the trunk or in a locked glove box.

As with alcohol, driving under the influence (OUI) is a serious offense. Although there are not yet field breathalyzer tests for THC levels —THC is the active ingredient in marijuana — Mr. Morse said police are trained to spot pot intoxication.

“There are field sobriety tests, balancing tests, coordination tests to see if a person is impaired, and there are additional tests that can be administered by a drug recognition expert,” he said. “If you’re smoking in a car and you’re pulled over by the police, you’re probably going to get arrested for driving under the influence.”

Mr. Morse repeatedly stressed common sense. “If you’re arrested, [the details] will be hashed out in court. The question I’ll throw back is, Do you really want to spend $5,000 on a lawyer and have your driver’s license taken from you? Do it at home, stay home, you’ll never have to worry about it,” he said.

As of Dec. 15, people more than 21 years may legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or five grams of THC extracts, such as edibles and tinctures, outside the confines of their own home.

“It’s going to be difficult for a police officer to determine if there’s five grams of THC in the brownie you might have in your pocket, but this is the status of the law,” Mr. Morse said.

Public possession of more than one ounce but under two ounces of marijuana can result in a $100 civil fine and confiscation of the amount of pot over one ounce.

People under 21 years old, and their parents, may face additional charges for toting around too much pot. “If a person between 18 and 21 is in possession of under one ounce, they can pay a $100 civil fine, parents will be notified, and drug education classes are mandatory,” Mr. Morse said. “Parents of the juvenile are subject to up to a $1,000 fine.”

The rules governing home cultivation are currently very liberal. Mr. Morse said it’s now legal to store up to 10 ounces of homegrown cannabis, a quantity that drew laughter from the crowd.

“I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of marijuana,” he said. “In addition, each household can cultivate up to six plants per person, no more than 12 plants per household … The legislature most likely will reduce these quantities.”

The new law also provides that quantities of more than one ounce inside the home are to be under lock and key, and that marijuana plants should not be visible from the roadside without the assistance of binoculars.

“It’s not going to be kosher to have it growing in your front yard,” Mr. Morse said. “My question to you is, Do you really want to grow in a place where someone might take your plants?”

Under the new law, a person more than 21 years of age may give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult. However, sale of cannabis is illegal, except from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary or licensed retail shop.

“So if you plan on getting a second job selling this, you can still face prosecution,” Mr. Morse said.

Smoking marijuana in public is still prohibited.

“You cannot walk down Circuit Avenue and light up a bong,” Mr. Morse said. “The purpose of the statute is to regulate marijuana like alcohol, so smoking in public is not kosher. In addition, the town of Oak Bluffs still has public-use prohibition. If you decide to smoke in public, you could have $400 in fines. If you smoke at home, you’re never going to see me. Nor should you.”

Green thumb

Paul Jackson, a lifelong Islander and highly regarded organic gardener with more than 300 ribbons from the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, has been growing small amounts of marijuana for more than 60 of his 81 years.

He drew gasps from the audience when he showed a “stem” from one of his marijuana plants, which was thick enough to belong on a woodpile. The plant had grown to be 14 feet tall. Mr. Jackson said it was one of four marijuana plants taken in last summer’s State Police/National Guard helicopter raids, when a total of 392 marijuana plants were confiscated on the Vineyard over two days.

Mr. Jackson says he has never smoked or sold his marijuana, and he only gives it to people who can benefit from its medicinal properties.

As he did in a February 2013 interview with The Times, “Love, life, and death: A Martha’s Vineyard marijuana story,” he told the audience how cannabis tea had helped Mary, his wife of 53 years, through the pain of pancreatic cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy. Mr. Jackson said they forsook the morphine prescribed by her doctors, and substituted cannabis tea for pain management.

“I mixed in some raspberry jam for flavor,” he said. “I can truthfully say she never showed one sign of pain.”

Mr. Jackson was an organic gardener long before the method became de rigueur on the Island. He said his naturally grown cannabis is far superior to that of the large-scale operations that supply the legal dispensaries.

“The people that are selling it are using chemicals that react with the chemotherapy,” he said. “My son-in-law got the commercial stuff; it didn’t work,” he said.

Mr. Jackson also dispensed organic gardening tips: using “scallop water,” water infused in a soak of scallop shells, and putting ground-up leaves in the soil in autumn.

“I use everything that nobody else wants,” he said.

After a lengthy discussion among audience members about where on the Internet to get the best marijuana seeds, Mr. Jackson was asked if he would consider giving organic gardening classes.

“The best thing to do, when you have nothing to do, is stop by,” he said.

Mr. Morse said that despite the new state law, the Air National Guard works under federal jurisdiction, and the black helicopters could return this summer.

“What a surprise they’re going to get,” Mr. Jackson said.

Medical marijuana — slow but steady growth

Geoff Rose, chief executive of the nonprofit Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard (PCMV) spoke about his experience with his yet-to-be-opened medical marijuana dispensary, which will be the first dispensary on Martha’s Vineyard, assuming the federal government doesn’t change the law. Medical marijuana was legalized by Massachusetts voters in November 2012.

Mr. Rose cleared a major hurdle when he was issued a provisional license for PCMV from the Department of Public Health (DPH) in September. He estimates it will be another year before all the administrative, legal, and logistical hurdles are cleared.

“This has been a four-year journey for me,” he said. “My world is nothing like their world. Medical cannabis operates in a highly regulated environment when it comes to security, testing, cultivation, waste removal, and patient guidelines. Because of security concerns, we are required to grow indoors and only indoors. Every room with cannabis in it requires a security camera.”

There are currently nine dispensaries operating in Massachusetts. “Fifteen licenses were issued in the first round of applications,” Mr. Rose said. “Six are still not open.”

Rather than get into the minutiae of the dispensary business, Mr. Rose offered advice on how to get an authorization for medical marijuana.

“The simplest way is to ask a physician to write an authorization for you, which you then turn over to the [DPH] and get your card,” he said. “The reality is that most individuals do not have a physician who will do that. There are 112 medical authorization cards that have been issued in Dukes County, and no dispensary. I would venture to say that the vast majority of them have gone off-Island to clinics operated by medical people, who will take documentation from your physician of a qualifying condition, and the clinic will help with the authorization. It takes your doctor out of the equation.”

According to the DPH website, qualifying medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

“The largest single category is for chronic pain,” Mr. Rose said. “Unfortunately no insurance companies cover it as a medical expense. We didn’t wait for that,” Mr. Jackson said. “We just grew it ourselves.”