Cannabis advocates pushed back Tuesday on an attempt by the state legislature to prohibit gifting of the plant in an effort to prevent sellers from circumventing Connecticut’s budding recreational retail industry.
The legislature’s General Law Committee heard public testimony on a bill based on recommendations from the Social Equity Council created by last year’s cannabis legalization bill. The most controversial element of the bill would prevent residents from gifting the plant or face up to a year in prison and $10,000 fine.
The provision prompted a small protest outside the state Capitol Tuesday morning and several people spoke in opposition to it during the hearing.
The committee’s co-chairman, Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, sought to stem criticism at the outset of the hearing by explaining that the bill’s intent was not to prevent residents from giving cannabis to their friends or family. Instead, the provision was aimed at what he called “retail gifting events.” As an example, D’Agostino described a Tupperware party where cannabis was used as currency.
“‘Instead of cash, bring cannabis,’ and that’s the transaction. That would be prevented versus … your friends are coming over for a book club and you bake cannabis brownies. Have at it,” D’Agostino said. “The former would be prevented. The latter would not.”
However, several members of the public offered testimony opposing the provision, calling any step that potentially put someone behind bars for actions related to cannabis a step in the wrong direction.
“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,” Duncan Markovich of Branford said.
Another resident, Douglas Moore, told the committee he was born without arms and legs, lived on a fixed income, and relied on the gifts of friends to obtain cannabis, which he used as a medication.
“For me to be actually a normal person like all y’all, I need this gift,” Moore said. “So my question is: are you going to arrest me?”
D’Agostino tried to reassure Moore the bill would not result in his arrest.
“The law as drafted does not ban that type of gifting or would arrest you in any way. It’s meant to target really what are essentially commercial transactions,” he said.
Others objected to banning those transactions. Michael DeLauro, a retired state worker who has lupus and a form of epilepsy, said cannabis helped treat his conditions better than traditional medications. DeLauro suggested D’Agostino attend one of the gifting events the bill sought to prohibit to get a better understanding of the community.
“If you stop these types of events happening, you’re also going to stop the type of generosity and the type of community spirit that happens at these types of events. It’s not simply eliminating a commercial transaction,” DeLauro said. “I’ve thought about it and I’m not really sure what the law does other than protect commercial interests.”
D’Agostino was not the only lawmaker to be invited to a cannabis gifting event Tuesday. During the hearing, Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican generally opposed to cannabis legalization, asked a speaker, Susan Wynne, how he would locate a gifting event on the internet.
“You should go to one, sir,” Wynne said, “because it is a wonderful community. It is white, Black, Latino, everybody getting along, sharing recipes, arts and crafts, glass-blowing. It is a community of love and they made me want to live again.”
Kissel said he was not yet sold on the legalization of cannabis but had heard the testimony of many who agreed with Wynne.
“But, you know, if I do want to go and check this out,” Kissel said, “how do you find where these things are?… What would I Google? ‘Marijuana gifting fair Connecticut?’”
Wynne laughed and offered to send Kissel details.