Islanders Could Face Tough Time Growing Weed

Marijuana is now legal in two states, decriminalized in 16, and allowed for medical use in nearly two dozen. That makes life a lot easier for locals who want to grow weed.

But now certain cultivators in Washington, California, and other coastal states where cannabis is allowed face a new obstacle: getting their island-grown pot to the mainland.

growing weedIn Washington, where recreational pot has been legal since 2013, Scott Durkee and his partners plan to grow 2,000 square feet of marijuana in Vashon, an island community in the Puget Sound.

Vashon is one of the larger islands in the sound, and it could be a great place to grow legal dope. But getting the pot back to the mainland to sell it could be a real challenge.

That’s because the only ways on and off the island are boat and airplane, both of which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The feds could use this power to cut off growers like Durkee.

“We’re not going to sell it on Vashon,” Durkee said. “We’re stoners, but we’re not that much of stoners.”

The U.S. Coast Guard patrols the waters of the sound, while the Federal Aviation has jurisdiction over any craft traveling in U.S. airspace. These agencies can easily intercept a boat or plane suspected of carrying marijuana.

Whether that will happen remains an open question. The Obama administration said last year that it won’t interfere with legalization and other reforms as long as states enforce their laws stringently. But letting cannabis pass through federal jurisdictions may be another matter.

That doesn’t mean Durkee and other island growers are giving up. Many hope the feds will use the same hands-off approach to their operations. After all, the administration is already willing to ignore one set of federal laws by allowing legal weed, so it isn’t a stretch to think they might go light on island grow operations.

“My plan is to comply with all of the [state] regulations,” Durkee said. “I’m just going to drive on the [ferry] boat as if I’m going to the Mariners game. And I don’t care about the Coast Guard, and I don’t care about the federals, and I don’t think they care about it either. They have bigger fish to fry.”

Islands like Vashon dot each coast, with hundreds located in states where pot is legal for recreational or medical purposes. Many are connected to the mainland by bridges, which are typically patrolled by state or local police.

But others are isolated, unreachable by car, sometimes idyllic – the perfect place to grow a shitload of weed, in other words.

“Vashon is an ideal place for growing marijuana,” said Shango Los, founder of the Vashon Island Marijuana Entrepreneurs Alliance. “Not only do we have a supportive agricultural community, but our island has a long history of producing prohibition-era marijuana, so the skill sets are already there.”

Washington Liquor Control BoardMarijuana businesses could locate on other islands in the Puget Sound, as well. Like Durkee, they would have to find a hassle-free way to get cannabis to the mainland.

The Washington Liquor Control Board, which oversees legal weed in the state, said officials expect there won’t be problems delivering the pot by ferry. Ross Allen, grower on San Juan Island who planted earlier in the summer, said he hasn’t had problems shipping clones and cuts by the Washington State Ferry.

“I’m just trying to stick within regulations and do our state proud by doing this the right way,” Allen said.

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on, and