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Martha’s Vineyard is about to run out of pot. This has led to a lawsuit and unrest among regulators

WINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. — An 81-year-old woman from Martha’s Vineyard drove to the Island Time pharmacy last week to order her usual pot. But owner Geoff Rose had to tell her the cupboard was bare; he had been forced to temporarily close three weeks earlier after selling all the last of the buds and gummies.

Unless something changes, the island’s only other cannabis dispensary will sell off all its remaining supplies by September at the latest and Martha’s Vineyard will be left completely without weed, impacting more than 230 registered medical users and thousands more recreational users.

The problem comes down to location. Although Massachusetts voters chose to legalize marijuana more than seven years ago, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has taken the position that transporting weed across the ocean — by boat or plane — risks violating come up with federal laws. That’s despite the counterargument that there are routes to Martha’s Vineyard that remain entirely within the state’s territorial waters.

The mystery prompted Rose last month to file a lawsuit against the commission, which now says finding a solution to the island’s pot problem has become a top priority. Three of the five commissioners visited Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday to hear directly from affected residents.

The tension between conflicting state and federal regulations is playing out across the country as states have legalized marijuana. For example, California law expressly allows cannabis to be transported to stores on Catalina Island, while Hawaii last year addressed its own difficulties in transporting medical marijuana between islands by amending a law to allow it.

Federal authorities have also changed their position. The Justice Department last month moved to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, although it is still not legal for recreational use.

For years, sellers on Martha’s Vineyard and the nearby island of Nantucket thought they had a solution. They grew and tested their own pot, eliminating the need to import pots from across the water.

But Fine Fettle, a Connecticut-based company that was the only commercial grower on Martha’s Vineyard and also runs the island’s other dispensary, told Rose last year that it planned to stop growing pot on Martha’s Vineyard and that it the store would close if existing stocks ran out. ran out.

Benjamin Zachs, who runs Fine Fettle’s operations in Massachusetts, said that when the company opened in Martha’s Vineyard, it knew it was illegal to transport marijuana across federal waterways.

“When it started, we honestly thought this was a good thing for business,” Zachs said. “A conquered market.”

But over time, pot became cheaper with more varied options on the Massachusetts mainland, while the cost of hiring testers on the island rose, making it uneconomic to continue such a niche operation, Zachs said . He added that many people bring their own belongings on the ferry.

But for people living on the island, taking the ferry to buy weed can be expensive and time-consuming. There is no pharmacy in Woods Hole, where the ferry lands, so they have to take an Uber or car transfer from there, and vehicle space is in high demand in the summer. That leaves medical users like Sally Rizzo wondering how to access marijuana. She discovers that the drug helps relieve her back problems and insomnia.

“The nice thing about getting it from a pharmacy is you can tell them specifically what you’re looking for, and you know the milligrams, and you know what the potency is, and what’s in it,” said Rizzo, who filed an affidavit filed in support of Rose’s lawsuit.

Rose, 77, has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for more than two decades and opened his Island Time store three years ago. For the time being, he will keep his five-person staff on the payroll. The pharmacy’s green logo resembles a hippie-esque version of the famous Starbucks emblem, with a relaxed woman smelling a flower beneath the words “Stop and smell the flower.” But Rose is anything but relaxed these days.

“I’m about to go bankrupt,” he said. “While I recognize the committee’s efforts to address the issue, I truly felt that the only way to obtain immediate relief was to file a lawsuit. I had no intention of sitting on the sidelines. I had to do something.”

Rose was joined in his lawsuit by Green Lady Pharmacy in Nantucket, which still has its own homegrown supply for now, but also faces the same high costs for on-site testing.

In the lawsuit, Rose outlines how he told the commission in November that his company was facing an existential crisis because Fine Fettle would no longer grow marijuana. In March, he took a chance by buying some weed on the mainland and shipping it across by ferry.

But the commission ordered Rose to stop selling the product he shipped, placing it in administrative custody. The commission eventually released the marijuana a few weeks later, but told Rose he could no longer ship the marijuana. In his lawsuit, Rose complains of the commission’s “arbitrary, unreasonable and inconsistent policy against transportation across the territorial waters of the state.”

Island Time is represented by Vicente, a company specializing in cannabis business. It agreed to delay an emergency injunction against the commission until June 12, after the commission said it would enter into settlement talks.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we can reach a resolution, but if we cannot, we are prepared to make the case in court,” said Vicente attorney Adam Fine.

Until last week, the commission maintained it would not comment on pending litigation, other than to say there was no special accommodation to allow the transportation of cannabis from the mainland to the islands. But when commissioners traveled to Martha’s Vineyard, they assured residents they were all on the same page.

“This is obviously a super priority for us because we don’t want to see any industry collapse on the islands,” said Commissioner Kimberly Roy.

She said no one could have foreseen that such a supply chain problem would arise and they wanted it resolved.

“It’s a funny combination,” she said. “The entire industry is federally illegal. But that also evolves. We’re just trying to stay responsive and agile.”