Connecticut Gov. signs bill to crack down on weed gifting
Officials in New York and Washington DC have also threatened action against cannabis gift shops
It’s about to get harder to get weed in Connecticut.
On May 24, Gov. Ned Lamont signed House Bill 5329 into law. The bill now allows municipalities to fine vendors and participants of cannabis gifting up to $1,000 for illegal sales. Additional fines may also apply for avoiding taxation regulations.
Cannabis activists and business owners have decried the bill as re-criminalizing the plant and impeding the market; Connecticut legalized adult-use cannabis in July 2021, but doesn’t anticipate recreational sales until late 2022.
The bill illustrates a growing trend on the East Coast where states with legal weed are still making patients and consumers jump through hoops to access the plant.
What is cannabis gifting?
Cannabis gifting is practiced worldwide in places where cannabis is legal, but not legally for sale. Countries like Portugal allow the loophole for tourists, since visitors are not allowed to buy legal weed yet.
At gift shops, someone seeking cannabis buys a novelty item, like a sticker, keychain, or pair of socks, for a seemingly high price, and receives cannabis as a free accompanying “gift.”
Washington DC’s cannabis gifting ecosystem has been in full effect since 2015, after voters passed Initiative 71 for possession and personal cultivation. DC first legalized medical marijuana in 2010.
Across the district, Adults 21 and up can legally possess up to two ounces of cannabis flower, but have no way to buy or sell it legally.
Despite plenty of opposition, DC’s gifting system remains in effect. In April, lawmakers voted down a bill attempting to shutter the citywide gifting practice.
Connecticut’s “High Bazaar” was a weekly gathering that started last summer on the heels of legalization. Patients and adult users once gathered to procure flower and other products. But the event has been on hiatus since March after multiple court filings against the event, including for improper zoning.
Why do states want to stop gifting?
It’s not just Connecticut. In the last year, New York’s Office of Cannabis Management has issued over 24 cease-and-desist letters to gifting violators. Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said the board wants to “protect New Yorkers from known risks and to strengthen the foundation of the legal, regulated market.”
Similar measures were taken in New Jersey last year, before recreational sales started. The motivation behind the crack downs on “cannabis bazaars” is twofold: the danger of unregulated sales, and untaxed money.
At first, Connecticut’s new HB 5329 bill carried much harsher consequences, including a year in prison and $10,000 fine. Feedback from cannabis advocates led to revisions.
One important note: Gifting is still allowed among friends and family.
“You can gift to your friends and relatives,” state Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said during the debate on the House floor in May, as reported by the Connecticut Mirror. “That is still legal and will remain legal after we pass this bill.”