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Face the Facts: Gifting Cannabis in Connecticut

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As Connecticut gets ready to roll out recreational marijuana sales, lawmakers are looking to rein in certain ways it's already being sold.

It's called gifting and it's happening in some places like Washington D.C. and in some cases, here in Connecticut.

NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with State Rep. Mike D'Agostino (D-Hamden) who chairs the General Law Committee.

Mike Hydeck: "For people who don't know what this kind of gifting means, can you sort of explain it?"

Mike D'Agostino: "Sure, Mike. And thanks a lot for having me. So what's ended up popping up ironically enough, in my town, Hamden of all places, even though I also happen to chair the committee that oversees the regulation of cannabis, are these gifting bazaars. They're events where literally a few hundred people gather and you may pay an amount to get in. And there's music. It's a very festival-like atmosphere. But the ultimate goal is actually the sale of cannabis, that's what occurs there. Although it's under the auspices of gifting. So you may go up to a table and purchase a t-shirt or some other item of minimal value for say, $20, $50, whatever it is, in return, as part of your purchase, you might get a gift of cannabis, a particular strain or type that you're interested in. And that's, I have to admit, a fairly clever way around the regulatory scheme that we set up. But it is a way around the regulatory scheme that we set up. We spent a great deal of time, as you know, over the past few years trying to establish our regulated, structured market where we could track seed to sale, make sure everything was safe. And this really is a way around that."

Mike Hydeck: "Could any of this have been foreseen? Obviously, Connecticut's not the first place that's selling recreational marijuana. Like Colorado and other places, we tried to glean as much information, I'm guessing from these other states first, right?"

Mike D'Agostino: "No, it's more just addressing frankly the structure of gifting, what's happening in these bazaars and putting in, preventing it, making it illegal and put it in place, civil penalties, both on the state level and municipal level. So let me just sort of back up, we are not preventing, and it is not illegal in this state, nor will it be if this bill passes. For you to give cannabis that you purchased legally to your mother or your father, or you know, or even like one of the examples that we talked about is, let's say you have a book club meeting over and you bake cannabis brownies for your book club. None of that is illegal. None of that would be illegal under this bill. This is addressed to that specific, really, again, what is the commercial marketplace for the exchange and sale of cannabis? So what we say is that particular structure, and that's very well defined in this bill, would be illegal, and you'd be subject to a $2,500 fine from the state, you'd be subject to taxes if you proceed. And then municipalities, as well, could impose their own fines through local ordinance up to $2,500 for it, in addition to zoning bans and that sort of thing. So it's again meant to target that very specific commercialization through gifting, but not personal gifting that frankly, we can never police anyway."

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Mike Hydeck: "Right, that would be nearly impossible. As the initial discussions were getting underway, protesters, as we know, were out on the lawn of the Capitol handing out joints as the proposal was being considered. They contend though if gifting is banned, the way you're thinking of it, it would create a black market. What's your response to that?"

Mike D'Agostino: "A couple of things. First, I want to say that, you know, we've always taken into account input from all the advocates and we tried to do that and even here, they made a very good point. The original bill criminalized the conduct, it was an actual criminal penalty. And that wasn't consistent with what we did in terms of the decriminalization of cannabis. So we took that out based on their input and that was a very fair point by them. You know, in terms of a black market, it certainly exists now. The whole idea of a regulated, structured legal environment is to shrink down that black market as much as possible, however it exists. And we think we'll do that. And we will be doing that as we come online with our legalized sales."

Mike Hydeck: "As the discussions got underway, we realized that some Republicans are saying they support this idea moving forward as well. When do you think we could see a vote or even the next step toward a vote on this?"

Mike D'Agostino: "It's out of committee and it cleared committee with bipartisan support, as you just mentioned. So the next step is the House bill will go through the House and then up to the Senate, and then hopefully, pass both chambers and be signed into law."

Mike Hydeck: "That could actually happen pretty quickly, you think?"

Mike D'Agostino: "It just depends on the vacancies on the calendar. This is a short session, as you know, we have to be done by the first week of May, so certainly within the next month."

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