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Connecticut Legislative Panel Approves Bill Banning Weed Gifting Parties

Connecticut Legislative Panel Approves Bill Banning Weed Gifting Parties

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

March 16, 2022

A Connecticut legislative panel this week advanced legislation to ban weed gifting parties in a bid to halt the operation of marijuana bazaars where people are trading “donations” for “gifts” of cannabis. The measure, Bill 5329, was approved on Tuesday by the General Law Committee and will now head to the House floor for a vote by the full chamber.

Connecticut lawmakers legalized recreational cannabis last year, but dispensaries have not yet been licensed to begin sales of adult-use cannabis. With cannabis possession now legal, the state has seen the emergence of weed gifting parties, including a weekly event in Hamden dubbed the High Bazaar. Temporarily on hold, the bazaar saw as many as 1,200 people attend an industrial park marketplace where vendors offered marijuana in return for donations.

Under Bill 5329, gifts of cannabis in return for a donation, event admission or other consideration would be prohibited. The measure also bans transfers of marijuana in any location where other items not related to cannabis are for sale, except at a licensed dispensary. If passed, violations of the law would be subject to a fine of up to $2,500. 

The bill also includes a ban on cannabis billboard advertising and provisons to allow the creation of cannabis social equity joint ventures. An earlier version of the legislation included criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and fines of up to $10,000, but the bill was amended by the committee.

Democratic state Rep. Mike D’Agostino said despite criticism from cannabis advocates, the legislation is not intended to ban private gifting of cannabis among adults. 

“We appreciate that gifting will go on between people in the privacy of their homes,” Rep. Mike D’Agostino, the co-chair of the committee, told CT Mirror last week. “An event that’s organized, that rents space and is really a market just violates the entire intent of the statute that we put in place last year.”

“This is not gifting between mothers and daughters and friends or what you might do in the privacy of your home,” D’Agostino said this week. “These are these organized gifting events that take place, really, in a marketplace that are really just thinly veiled market conduct.”

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, a Republican member of the committee who voted against last year’s cannabis legalization bill, said that the legislation’s regulatory and taxation provisions should be protected. She added that the “bazaars were definitely an end run around that.”

Cannabis Community Opposes Anti-Gifting Bill

Cannabis advocates oppose Bill 5329 and held a demonstration at the state Capitol on Tuesday to protest the proposal. Christina Capitan, one of the organizers of the protest that drew about 40 activists, said that gifting events are safe and an important part of the state’s cannabis community.

“It’s a central location where we can come together to help one another,” Capitan told Connecticut Public Radio. “I have nothing to hide, my friends have nothing to hide, we’re ultimately caregivers. And now we see that the state is trying to take that from us.”

Medical marijuana patient Terry Hopper, another protestor, said that the gifting events are the most affordable way for him to obtain cannabis, adding that Connecticut’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries are too expensive.

“I had to pay $150-200 for a license, plus $100 a year just for the right to buy medicine, without even buying the medicine yet. And no other medicine is regarded that way,” Hopper said. “You don’t pay for the right to take insulin. You pay for the medicine. It seems like they’re exploiting this for money.”

Democratic Sen. Cathy Osten called for further changes to the bill, saying she is concerned that Connecticut’s cannabis reform legislation does not include provisions that allow licensed hemp producers to transition to the recreational marijuana industry. 

“After having a number of people come to us and say that we needed to do something to address the issue of hemp and hemp farmers, so in not considering this issue, we have put at jeopardy a burgeoning industry in Connecticut,” Osten said. “One that started just before we went into COVID and has been pressured by a number of different things just relative to our whole economy. To not give them an opportunity to participate in this issue is somewhat disturbing, in my opinion.”

Osten said that she hoped additional amendments would be made as the bill winds its way through the General Assembly, which is scheduled to adjourn on May 4.

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington

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