Nantucket is getting its first marijuana dispensary Sunday. The island presents some ‘unique’ challenges.

Bringing marijuana to and from the Massachusetts island is illegal, even if it's allowed on land.

A view of the Brant Point lighthouse on Nantucket, Massachusets on July 7, 2019. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images
A view of the Brant Point lighthouse on Nantucket. –Joseph Prezioso / Getty Images

Nicole Campbell is getting ready to open the 23rd recreational marijuana shop in Massachusetts this Sunday.

Like any other entrepreneur in the state’s cannabis industry, it’s been a lot of work to get to this point. Campbell has navigated a years-long process of permits and licensing, not to mention the more recent all-hands-on-deck effort to prepare for their highly anticipated opening day. She says the dispensary’s 27-person staff has recently been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

The big difference, however, is that that Campbell’s shop, The Green Lady, is located on Nantucket, which is a literal island surrounded by a sea of marijuana prohibition.

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Since cannabis remains prohibited at the federal level, it’s against the law to possess or transport the drug in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts, even if it’s legal on land. That means it’s technically a federal crime to take marijuana to and from islands like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, whether it’s by boat, plane, submarine, or any other means (medical marijuana patients in Hawaii face a similar legal quandary).

Local residents and vacationers may feel free to ignore that rule, as many surely did for decades before Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, but state-regulated businesses don’t have that option. Cannabis Control Commission investigator Armand Enos III acknowledged in June that it “presents some interesting, unique challenges” for The Green Lady.

All of the marijuana products — flower, infused chocolates, vape cartridges, etc. — that the dispensary plans to sell has to be grown and produced on the island. Campbell, who owns The Green Lady with her husband, Rupert, says their otherwise nondescript, shingled facility on Amelia Drive houses five indoor cultivation rooms, a commercial kitchen, and an extraction lab. They first began growing cannabis seeds back in March.

“If you were to open a dispensary on the mainland, you could buy product from other people who are whole-selling it and that would make a huge difference,” Campbell told Boston.com in an interview this week.

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“We’re just doing everything under this roof, so it makes it very difficult,” she added.

Additionally, state law requires that all products be tested for contaminants, pesticides, and potency levels by an independent laboratory. There are two such labs in Massachusetts, and, of course, neither of them are on Nantucket. With the number of dispensaries in the town capped at two, there’s no plan — or incentive — for a lab to open on the island, either.

CCC officials recognized this potential problem back in 2017 when they were beginning to draft the rules for the new legal marijuana market and created a carve-out in the regulations allowing dispensaries in Nantucket and Dukes counties to do their own testing, to the extent possible, under close monitoring by state officials.

“We can’t send it over federal waters,” Campbell said. “We have to do the testing in-house. … It’s literally been my full-time job.”

There are a few small differences. For instance, most dispensaries are required to send their cannabis plants to be tested at an off-site lab for pesticides. The Green Lady can’t do that; instead, they’ll send samples of dirt to a lab in Milford. The dispensary’s products will also be required to have a label warning in capital letters: “LIMITED TESTING FOR CONTAMINANTS AND PESTICIDES.”

With those conditions, the CCC approved The Green Lady’s retail and production licenses in late June. On Wednesday, the state agency sent the dispensary a commence operations notice, allowing them to begin sales on Sunday. Campbell says they plan to open at 10 a.m. on an appointment-only basis.

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“We shouldn’t be adding to the traffic jam,” she said, referring to Nantucket’s notorious congestion during the summer.

Given the fact The Green Lady is opening at the height of the island’s tourist season, Nantucket Police Lt. Angus MacVicar says that the plan to space out customers through the appointment system should “drastically cut down” on traffic around the dispensary — or at least not exacerbate the existing gridlock.

“It’s August in Nantucket,” MacVicar deadpanned.

Otherwise, he says the department doesn’t expect much of an impact from the new business. Campbell says the dispensary, which plans to begin serving medical marijuana patients in the fall, has worked with local officials “every step of the way” toward Sunday’s opening.

“Everybody has been putting in an amazing amount of time,” she said of the store’s staffers. “So I’m so appreciative of everybody working here and all the hard work they’re doing.”

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