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Connecticut Bill Proposal Draws Criticism for Attempting to Ban Cannabis Gifting

Raised Bill No. 5329 last month, which seeks to address the loophole of “gifting” cannabis. The new bill, if passed would impose a $10,000 penalty on parties that gift cannabis to the public. The bill was discussed at a General Law Committee meeting held on March 8. Advocates came forward to express their opinions.

The June 2021 bill for recreational marijuana was signed by Governor Ned Lamont. It is expected that sales will begin in the state of Connecticut before the year 2022. Some advocates claim that Connecticut’s new legislation is an attempt at recriminalizing cannabis, even before it has had the chance to launch fully. The bill’s text states that “no person shall gift, sell or transfer cannabis to another person,” and that cannabis cannot be exchanged as a donation, entry to an event, through a giveaway, and not at any location that isn’t a licensed cannabis dispensary.

Duncan Markovich (a cannabis owner) attended the General Law Committee’s virtual public hearing on the proposed bill and voiced his concern about it. “Some of the language presented in the bill … in fact would re-criminalize this plant and would be a major step backwards for all,” said Markovich. “The citizens of the state of Connecticut and those of us specifically within the cannabis community, culture, advocacy and industry cannot fathom such draconian language around this plant. Enacting a law that criminalizes the giving of any of this plant-based medicine to our fellow family members, friends or even complete strangers is unethical, unfathomable and borderline nefarious.” He also argued that gifting cannabis should be the same as gifting someone produce from a personal vegetable garden.

Justin Welch is another advocate. He’s a member both of CT CannaWarriors, and the New England Craft Cannabis Alliance. Welch also discussed his dependence on gifting as well as his opposition to the bill. “I do not deserve to be punished for this, nor does anyone else,” he shared. “For too long now, good people have been persecuted for their involvement with cannabis. Regardless of whether this bill is passed, the Connecticut grassroots cannabis community will continue to exist. Moving forward we need sensible cannabis policy that looks more like a craft beer policy.”

There is an important distinction between giving cannabis to someone you love or gifting it as a gift with the purchase of another item. One example of such gifting has been seen in events such as the “High Bazaar” that was previously held in Hamden, Connecticut, which hosted up to 1,200 visitors every Saturday to enjoy live music and explore local vendors. The following is an excerpt from the New Haven RegisterThe High Bazaar was stopped by an injunction because its organizers were not allowed to use the permits.

During the virtual meeting, Representative Michael D’Agostino of Hamden, explained that the newly proposed bill was created to deter large scale gifting, rather than that of personal gifting. “The committee’s intent, with this language, was to really prevent and rein in these retail gifting events that have been occurring in the state, which really are retail events,” D’Agostino said. “They’re just an end run around the permitting and transaction process that we’ve set up through our cannabis laws.”

Michelle Seagull from the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection echoed these sentiments. “You can’t give it away as part of a broader commercial transaction,” said Seagull. “It has to be a lot more than if you just gave it to a friend.”

By March 22, the General Law Committee will have acted on the bill proposal.

Although there has been no confirmation of where the High Bazaar will hold its events in the future, the Hamden mayor’s office hopes that it will find a new place to operate soon. “The administration supports organizations and businesses related to cannabis. We’re welcoming them to Hamden and the only concern about hosting the event at the [previous location] was about safety,” said Sean Grace, Mayor Lauren Garret’s chief of staff. “The events are very successful and they attract a lot of people, so you need the right venue for that.”