State considers allowing marijuana deliveries to the Vineyard

Cannabis Control Commission officials note that other states have found ways to transport over federal waters.

The Cannabis Control Commission is looking into the possibility of allowing shipments of marijuana to the Island. —MV Times

Massachusetts’ top medical and recreational marijuana agency is considering ways to buck federal rules and transport cannabis products to Martha’s Vineyard, noting the supply is drying up on the Island.

Cannabis Control commissioners at a meeting Thursday described the current supply chain as broken, with the only permitted growing operation — Fine Fettle in West Tisbury — announcing last week that they would close by September, and that they had stopped growing their product. 

With no other growing facility on the Island, and with federal regulations restricting the flow of marijuana over water, commissioners worry that the 234 medical marijuana patients registered on the Island could be left without a supply, and could turn to the black market. 

“Does that fall under a health emergency, I’m not sure,” commissioner Kimberly Roy said at Thursday’s meeting. Roy and other commissioners pushed to find a way to allow the transportation of product to the Island, noting that other states have figured out ways of making it work, including Maine, New York, and Hawaii. 

“Other jurisdictions have done it,” Roy said. “We’re not inventing the wheel, but if we do nothing, you’re going to have 234 patients with no medical access on the Island. That’s the reality of it.”

While commission staff said it would be difficult, commissioners discussed the possibility of implementing an emergency order that would allow a change to go into effect before the summer.

No vote was taken on the issue at the meeting; the commission is expected to convene in June to consider taking action after commission staff comes back with more information.

Commissioners did vote unanimously to hold a hearing on the Vineyard within the next 30 days to meet with Island select boards and other officials.

“They need to be aware that there is a supply-chain issue on the Island,” commissioner Roy said. “Maybe there’s something on the local level that they can help us with on the regulatory level. We need to engage with them.”

The issues surrounding the legal flow of product over water are complicated. While the federal government has jurisdiction over the water between the mainland and the Vineyard — which could put licensed transporters at risk — that state’s own laws governing transportation of marijuana restrict its transportation over water. 

State laws require shipments to be at random times, which could complicate shipments by ferry. There are also complications with who would license a boat or plane to transport product, whether it would be the state or federal government. And there are rules specifically geared around an operator’s driver’s license that present restrictions.

But on the forefront of commissioners’ minds on Thursday were the rules around federal waters. Because the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance, anyone transporting marijuana over federal waters risks breaking federal law — even if licensed by the state.

Cannabis Control Commission staff, prior to Thursday’s meeting, solicited feedback from the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Staff said that they did not receive an official response, but the agencies could treat the shipment of the product as an attempt to distribute a controlled substance, and take the appropriate enforcement action.

Staff also contacted the Steamship Authority about its policy. According to a statement from the Steamship Authority, the ferry service does not permit the shipment of marijuana on its boats because of Coast Guard regulations.

But other states have found ways to make it work.

In Hawaii, for example, some dispensaries have been making shipments to islands across the state by boat. Commission staff also noted that New York makes an exemption in their regulations that allows transport over water by ferry.

One of the more interesting instances is in Alaska, where many parts of the state are not accessible by road. As reported by MJ Biz Daily, a cannabis media outlet, one dispensary owner has packed her carry-on bags with marijuana and transported the product on commercial flights. The media outlet reported that because Alaska owns its airports, and marijuana has been legalized by the state, the retail shop owner has been able to transport product, even after reporting to agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration, local police, airport security, and Alaskan Airlines. 

In Washington State, Orcas Island Cannabis operates a dispensary on Eastsound, an island north of Seattle. Officials with the store say that licensed drivers make shipments in a vehicle by ferry to the island. 

Commission staff, while not presenting details, noted that Maine — while still in its early stages — has allowed transport to islands as well.

Commissioners at Thursday’s meeting requested that staff research how these states were able to make it work, and to come back with possible solutions.

Commissioner Roy noted the irony of fearing federal enforcement on transporting product over water, saying that the entire industry in Massachusetts is in violation of federal rules.

Outside of the complications with state and federal waters, there are also complications over the state’s transportation laws around licensing, and who could conceivably transport the product. The state’s bylaws currently regulate transportation via ground vehicles. The commission would have to craft specific language about boats and, say, helicopters. And enforcement officials with the commission say there are different complications with searching different modes of transportation, which would require different training and staffing. 

Commission chair Ava Callender Concepcion asked about potentially putting an emergency order in place that would allow transportation to the Island for the summer. The commission could put an order in place without having to go through a public review process, and then have three months to formally pass a regulation.

While that would be complicated, the three commissioners present expressed an interest in making something happen.

“There’s a lot more work for us to do internally,” Concepcion said. She suggested that staff come back with more information about how other states developed and contemplated their own regulations.

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins noted that something should be done in a timely manner. “I have concern for patients of Dukes County who have medical prescriptions,” Stebbins said. He added that the commission should prioritize any new applications or change of ownership on the Island that could come before them: “If a change of ownership came in — or a new application for a licensed establishment — we could prioritize review of that.”


  1. This was voted on by the people. I understand that some
    people are concerned about this drug, and think it shouldn’t
    be legal to begin with. But it is. Elections have consequences.
    From what I can tell, there is so much of this stuff being grown
    privately that you can’t give it away.
    But the issue here is not quantity, It’s quality.
    Certainly for people who use it for medical purposes,
    it should be tested and certified as any medical drug should be.
    But really, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the federal government
    to do anything in a timely manner.
    The article mentions a number of options as to how the federal regulations
    could be circumvented.
    How about drones ? While they would literally be “over water” they would
    not be transporting this product “over water” as the term is commonly
    And while I know that the FAA has some regulations about drones,
    low flying drones might not be subject to much regulation.
    If anyone knows more about this than my ignorant self, –which is
    pretty easy, since I know almost nothing, I would
    appreciate some accurate information on the subject.

  2. It’s pretty ridiculous because since the 60s every bit of weed was brought on the ferries.Cannabis is legal plain and simple and the state has come to bare on the industry to tax the crap out of it huge fees huge tax on recreation. Many people still grow. I use do consume I’ve grown my own for years. Not this year because it’s lots of work and worry. I use a dispensary in Middlboro. For vapes someone will pick up the stick and make it work. People who only see money are missing the point. It’s like liquor store no one runs or owns a package store because they like selling poison it’s the MONEY.

  3. Why not use a drone? Stay under 400 feet and follow the drone with a small boat to maintain the eye distance requirement.

    • I didn’t know about the eye distance requirement.
      It would be cheaper to follow it while on the ferry.
      But, it seems like great minds think alike.

        • Mark–thanks for that info–
          So it seems that it would be pretty easy for anyone to
          legally fly 10 ounces of said project via drone while directing it,while on the ferry. i’m sure one person could direct multiple drones on a single crossing. if one person on the ferry were in eye site and directing 20 drones that were each carrying 10 ounces , would that be illegal ?
          Would the person directing the drones be in “possession” of them ?
          Interesting legal questions—

  4. At what point on the trip from Wood’s Hole to Martha’s Vineyard are the ferries operating in Federal water?

  5. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner) cannabis will get rescheduled. I always wondered why our local tribe never ventured into a massive retail cannabis operation as opposed to a seedy casino. Tax free? No kick backs to towns? Free from the Fed?

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