Attendees at the High Bazaar in Hamden, Conn. last fall at the open lot where the event returned last week after a court order eliminated its indoor space. Credit: Samantha Perrelli

Cannabis advocates are lamenting the loss of so-called gifting events in the wake of Governor Ned Lamont signing HB 5329 into effect, on May 24, banning cannabis gifting events.

“It crushed a peaceful, caring social movement,” said cannabis advocate Frankie Parady. “If you had seen one, you would understand.”

The law came in the wake of the success of Hamden, Connecticut’s High Bazaar, a weekly event that started in July, 2021, shortly after the state first legalized adult use cannabis. At that point, the state had yet to craft the regulations for its adult use market, but vendors were able to use a gifting provision to share cannabis products, often in exchange for donations.

Before HB 5329 had even been introduced in the legislature, the Town of Hamden had sued the organizers of the High Bazaar, who had become victims of their own success, eventually fielding over 1,000 visitors in a single day, which drew the attention of local media and zoning code inspectors.

Just as the legislature was considering its ban, the Superior Court in New Haven ordered a permanent injunction against the organizers of the High Bazaar on May 19 from ever holding a similar event in town.

The new state law outlaws gifting cannabis as a transaction, which means there is an exchange. Smaller interchanges, such as handing a joint to a random person with no expectation is still permitted.

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. The most notorious being the High Bazaar, which is in Rep. Mike D’Agostino’s district. D’Agostino served as one of the original sponsors of HB 5329.

“I really do feel the saddest thing about the loss of these events, is that this was a lifeblood of where the community came together,” said Duncan Markovich cannabis activist and owner of Better Ways.

Markovich also argued that these events allowed legacy market producers to present their products even if they were unable to afford the cost of proper licenses. Because events like High Bazaar existed within the state’s gray market, they created a space for legacy market producers to dabble in the legal market.

“These events provided the safe space for craft brands to really show their stuff,” he said. “It’s not an illicit market. People were getting provided better quality products, and that’s where the market went.”

The state legislature passed the bill in May, after amending the language to pull back on earlier prohibition against billboard advertising for cannabis businesses. The newer version allowed limited advertising, but barred out of state operators, such as those in Massachusetts who had previously rented billboards advertising that drivers near the Massachusetts border were getting closer to legal adult use sales.

The new law 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 governments would still be able to limit the total number of operators.

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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...