Nantucket And Vineyard Dispensaries Join Forces In Lawsuit Fighting State Cannabis Regs

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Part of The Green Lady Dispensary team.

The Green Lady, one of Nantucket’s two marijuana dispensaries, has joined Vineyard Haven’s Island Time dispensary in a lawsuit challenging regulations that prohibit shipping marijuana across Nantucket Sound. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that the existing regulations, which restrict the island dispensaries to selling cannabis that is grown on-island, are “arbitrary, unreasonable, and inconsistent” and subject the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard-based businesses to “extreme financial burdens not endured by their mainland competitors.”

“There are these unfair rules that have been placed on us,” Nicole Campbell, COO of The Green Lady, said. “It’s a very heavy burden to put on a small business.”

The regulations, imposed by the state-level Cannabis Control Commission, prevent the shipping of marijuana across Massachusetts’ waters. As cannabis is still banned on the national level, it cannot be transported across federal waters, but it would be possible to transport cannabis from Cape Cod to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard without leaving state-controlled water — if the Commission allowed it. Massachusetts law does not explicitly prohibit moving marijuana over the water, but the Commission has not historically permitted it, largely to avoid federal attention and not risk any legal violations.

“It's about [the Commission] saying we have faith in you as operators and giving us the go-ahead. We're assuming the responsibility. We're assuming the risk,” Campbell said. “They should be concerned with implementing the state rules. Let the federal government deal with the federal rules.”

The route to Martha’s Vineyard through state-controlled waters is direct and short. The ease of transportation prompted one dispensary to ship product to Martha’s Vineyard from the Cape despite the Commission’s regulations, though they were quickly caught.

“It's almost a no-brainer to go from Martha's Vineyard to the mainland,” Campbell said.

Shipping product to Nantucket without crossing federal waters would be trickier, she admitted, but if it were allowed, it is an option she would pursue.

“It wouldn’t be easy, but I do think it’s possible,” she said.

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Graphic via Kirkland An / Boston Globe

The Commission is aware of the unique difficulties faced by island dispensaries, and according to a story published Tuesday in The Boston Globe, is planning to discuss potential accommodations soon.

The lawsuit alleges that the current Commission regulations unfairly treat island dispensaries differently from their counterparts in the rest of the state, restricting their access to cannabis and hurting their profit margins. According to the lawsuit, if the regulations aren’t changed, they could force the closure of Martha’s Vineyard’s last dispensary and leave medical and recreational users alike with no legal source of marijuana.

But Nantucket doesn’t face the same fate. At least one dispensary, ACK Natural, remains largely unaffected by the regulations.

“We don’t need any product from off-island,” ACK Natural co-owner Dough Leighton said. “Frankly, we have the capacity. We have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility, and we grow and cultivate the best cannabis in the state.”

Leighton said that ACK Natural has yet to reach its full production capacity and that even if the lawsuit succeeded, it wouldn’t change much for his business. While Leighton would appreciate the increased variety for the store, he doesn’t believe any marijuana he would gain access to through the lawsuit would measure up to his existing stock in terms of quality.

Still, the lawsuit could make a significant difference for The Green Lady. Even setting aside the acquisition of marijuana, The Green Lady currently has to conduct all product testing on-site, a costly burden not shared by mainland dispensaries. Campbell said that the ability to outsource this testing would be the most important benefit she would gain if the courts ruled in her favor.

“That alone would make me happy,” Campbell said.

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