Mar­i­juana On Board

As stAtes in pop­u­lAr chAr­ter re­gions le­gAl­ize med­i­cAl And recre­AtionAl pot, yAcht cAp­tAins fAce new ob­stA­cles with guests.

Yachts International - - On Charter - By Kim Kavin

As the elec­tion re­sults were tal­lied across Amer­ica in Novem­ber and every­one be­came hy­per-fo­cused on two words—Pres­i­dent Trump—Capt. Roy Hodges aboard 161-foot (49me­ter) Chris­tensen Match Point lis­tened for the re­sults of bal­lot ini­tia­tives in a hand­ful of states.

Mas­sachusetts, in the New Eng­land cruis­ing grounds where Match Point char­ters dur­ing summers, be­came the first North­east state to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana. Maine vot­ers also gave recre­ational weed the thumbs up, fore­shad­ow­ing bong shops ev­ery­where from Bar Har­bor to Port­land. And in the South­ern cruis­ing grounds where Match Point bases each win­ter, Florid­i­ans voted to le­gal­ize med­i­cal use.

By the end of 2016, more than half of U.S. states—28 of them plus Wash­ing­ton, D.C.—had le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana, with recre­ational use be­com­ing le­gal in eight states plus the Dis­trict of Columbia. USA To­day re­ported le­gal re­tail sales of cannabis spik­ing by 21 per­cent just be­fore Christ­mas, with ed­i­bles such as brown­ies and candy as the top sell­ers. A Gallup poll found that 60 per­cent of Amer­i­cans wanted to see weed le­gal­ized na­tion­wide, up from just 25 per­cent in 1996. Mar­ket an­a­lysts started men­tion­ing com­pa­nies such as Philip Mor­ris and Coca-Cola in the same sen­tences as the word cannabis, with all kinds of in­fused good­ies ap­par­ently on the draw­ing boards.

Hodges saw a spe­cific prob­lem within the na­tional trend. He wor­ried that the pot sit­u­a­tion aboard char­ter yachts was go­ing to get even worse be­fore it might pos­si­bly get bet­ter.

“I had both on the same char­ter,” Hodges says of med­i­cal and recre­ational users. “One guy brought on a joint, and then an­other one brought on a rec­om­men­da­tion from a doc­tor with a bunch of pot. It wound up not end­ing well.”

The prob­lem that Hodges and other char­ter-yacht cap­tains are en­coun­ter­ing is that no mat­ter what any

state’s vot­ers or law­mak­ers do, mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion re­mains a fed­eral crime. The U.S. Coast Guard can board any ves­sel on any nav­i­ga­ble wa­ters, even if the ves­sel is tied to a dock whose pil­ing is firmly im­planted in state land, Hodges says. Cap­tains caught with drugs on board can lose their li­censes or have the yachts seized, and, as Hodges puts it, “if we cross a state line with any drugs on board, we’re traf­fick­ing. If you go from here to the Ba­hamas, coun­try to coun­try, that gets very messy.”

Some char­ter­ers al­ready step aboard with weed, think­ing it’s okay be­cause they’re from a state where it’s le­gal or they have a doc­tor’s note. Now that pot is be­ing le­gal­ized along pop­u­lar cruis­ing coast­lines, guests will be able to head ashore and grab ed­i­bles or joints, much as they might grab a bot­tle of booze to­day and bring it back to the boat. And when that boat is one they just paid, in the case of Match Point, a base rate of $195,000 to char­ter, the clients can feel they are en­ti­tled to do as they please.

Hodges ex­pe­ri­enced that at­ti­tude dur­ing the char­ter where clients brought mar­i­juana aboard, even though the con­tract—as with vir­tu­ally all char­ter con­tracts—clearly stated no drugs al­lowed.

“We had a very un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence with the client, the clos­est I’ve come to hit­ting some­body in a long time,” Hodges says. “It was bad for every­body in­volved. I had three crewmem­bers run up be­cause they thought he was go­ing to hit me. I’m a pretty calm guy. That says a lot.”

And he’s not alone. Kath­leen Mullen of Re­gency Yacht Char­ters, the vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Yacht Char­ter As­so­ci­a­tion, says clients find the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion con­fus­ing. “There was some­one who came to the BVI re­cently who as­sumed his pre­scrip­tion for it would make it le­gal there,” she says. “Not ac­cord­ing to BVI law!”

Bev­erly Par­sons of In­ter­pac Yachts, the pres­i­dent of AYCA, says she has en­coun­tered the prob­lem, too. “I have had the is­sue in Cal­i­for­nia on a lo­cal char­ter where the client had a le­gal pre­scrip­tion for mar­i­juana,” she says. “The cap­tain had to ask him to leave it at home on his re­peat trip.”

Hodges says that at a re­cent sem­i­nar in Fort Laud­erdale, his yacht’s char­ter man­ager, with IYC, brought up his in­ci­dent “and a lot of peo­ple had in­put. It had hap­pened to at least three or four other guys out of maybe 20 cap­tains in the room.”

Fed­eral law­mak­ers ap­pear poised to be­gin wrestling with the is­sue, though with un­clear goals. In mid-Fe­bru­ary, a bi­par­ti­san group of U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives from states where recre­ational use is le­gal formed the first-ever Con­gres­sional Cannabis Cau­cus, say­ing fed­eral law needed to be squared with con­flict­ing state laws. But they may face a tough-on­drugs Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the White House. While the pres­i­dent lacks a clear po­si­tion on pot as of this writ­ing, at­tor­ney gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said in April 2016 that “we need grown-ups in charge in Wash­ing­ton to say mar­i­juana is not the kind of thing that ought to be le­gal­ized,” adding separately that “good peo­ple don’t smoke mar­i­juana.”

Hodges fears what could hap­pen if Ses­sions’ view­point wins out, lead­ing the U.S. Coast Guard to in­crease the num­ber of yacht in­spec­tions. Imag­ine the pos­si­ble wind­fall, he says, for the gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial cof­fers, even when cap­tains are try­ing to do the right thing.

“If they seize the boat, hope­fully you can get it back, but in the ’ 80s and early ’90s, there was zero tol­er­ance,” Hodges says. “They were auc­tion­ing boats off left and right back then—and that’s still the law. It could hap­pen again.”

It had hap­pened to at least three or four other guys out of maybe 20 cap­taIns In the room.’ —Capt. roy Hodges, about char­ter clients bring­ing mar­i­juana on board

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