The Connecticut General Assembly proposed Raised Bill No. 5329 last month, which seeks to address the loophole of “gifting” cannabis. If passed, the new bill would charge $10,000 for violations for public gifting parties. A General Law Committee held a public meeting on March 8 to discuss the bill, which brought advocates to share their concerns on the matter.
Recreational cannabis was passed in June 2021 with the signature of Governor Ned Lamont, with plans to begin statewide sales by the end of 2022. However, some advocates in Connecticut are claiming that the new bill is an attempt to re-criminalize cannabis before the program has even had a chance to fully launch. 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.
One cannabis business owner, Duncan Markovich, attended a public virtual hearing of the proposal with the General Law Committee and expressed his concerns about the bill. “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.
Another advocate, Justin Welch, who is a member of CT CannaWarriors and the New England Craft Cannabis Alliance, explained his reliance on gifting and his resistance to the bill as well. “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. The grassroots cannabis community that exists here in Connecticut will not cease to exist, whether you pass this bill or not. Moving forward we need sensible cannabis policy that looks more like a craft beer policy.”
However, there is a defined difference between gifting cannabis to a friend or loved one, and gifting cannabis as free with the purchase of a different 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. According to the New Haven Register, an injunction put the High Bazaar to a halt because the event organizers did not have the proper 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.”
Connecticuter State Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull echoed that fact as well. “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.”
The General Law Committee is set to act on this bill proposal by March 22.
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.”