Cannabis anti-gifting and billboard ban sponsor, Connecticut State Rep. Mike D’Agostino.

The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a new cannabis bill that includes banning gifting along with a watered-down billboard advertising restriction.

“Towns that don’t allow these events anyway will continue to not allow them. Towns that were sort of stuck between a rock and hard place wondering if they should or shouldn’t are not going to allow them either.” said State Rep. Mike D’Agostino. “They are going to be authorizing their own commercial entities and I don’t think they’ll want competition from what is essentially another commercial entity.”

D’Agostino explained that HB 5329 does not ban gifting between friends and family, but instead is specifically targeting the larger events that have reoccurred in Connecticut since adult use cannabis was legalized last summer, such as open markets or bazaars.

The bill ultimately passed 98-49 with five abstentions. It is expected to go to the Senate in coming weeks.

The anti-gifting component of the bill came after the emergence of large gifting events following the legalization of adult use cannabis in Connecticut in July, 2021. Perhaps the most notorious of these events was the High Bazaar, which was held most weekends after legalization in the Town of Hamden, which is in D’Agostino’s district.

“It’s a barter exchange market place. It’s caused by a loophole in our laws that allows the gifting of cannabis,” he said. “You can still gift to your friends and relatives, you can host a brownie party at your own house. That will remain legal in the state after we pass this bill.”

State Rep. David Michel, who said he was in favor of legalization, explained that he was opposed to the bill.

“It seems that we are taking a direction to support corporations over small entrepreneurs,” he said.

The final vote count for HB5329 in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Right before the final debate on HB 5329, D’Agostino introduced an amendment to that bill that softened the billboard restrictions, to allow cannabis companies to use them, as long as they do not include more than three colors, any images of the cannabis plant, or any models younger than 25 consuming cannabis.

“These will be very antiseptic displays,” said D’Agostino. “You will also have to be a licensed cannabis holder in Connecticut to advertise, so none of this cross-border advertising.”

The amendment, which passed in a voice vote rather than a roll call, also sped up implementation. The bill would go into effect as soon as it is signed into law.

State. Rep. Michael Winkley said that he was opposed to the bill’s latest amendment, but still voted in favor of the final bill.

“We say marijuana is legal, but we over regulate it,” he said. “There is an existing marijuana culture out there and we are doing everything we can to stamp it out. We’re also limiting advertisers to not put a picture of a plant on a billboard. It just seems that we don’t understand the definition of legal.”

The bill also allows physicians’ assistants to write prescriptions for medical cannabis, and would eliminate all renewal fees for medical permit holders by 2024.

“We want to make sure that robust industry continues to thrive as we bring recreational cannabis online,” said D’Agostino, who also noted that eliminating the renewal fees would likely cut into state revenues.

“That will cost the state about $5 million, however that number is projected based on current permit holder numbers,” he said “We’ve already started to see a decline in our medical patients. If we did nothing, frankly that revenue is going to go down significantly.”

The bill also updates some of the regulations surrounding social equity cannabis applicants, including allowing existing cultivators to party with two different social equity applicants in joint equity ventures as a means to increase access to capital for new operators.

The bill lifts the cap on the number of cannabis licenses based on local population, though the state and the municipal government would still be able to limit the total number of operators.

Under the bill, state Social Equity Council members will be removed if they miss three consecutive meetings, or fail to attend more than half in any calendar year.

“We have some members that have missed more than half of the Council meetings,” said D’Agostino. “You have to show up when you’re appointed to a position like this.” 

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...