Kelly Crain, of Middletown, Aldo Cucciniello, of Hamden, and Joshua Frazer, of East Hartford sit in front of the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. The three were part of a protest against a bill that would ban cannabis gifting in Connecticut. Crain and Frazer are medical marijuana patients and said they've needed to get their medicine as gifts from friends or family members at times when their symptoms were particularly bad.
Kelly Crain, of Middletown, Aldo Cucciniello, of Hamden, and Joshua Frazer, of East Hartford sit in front of the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. The three were part of a protest against a bill that would ban cannabis gifting in Connecticut. Crain and Frazer are medical marijuana patients and said they've needed to get their medicine as gifts from friends or family members at times when their symptoms were particularly bad. Ginny Monk / ctmirror.org

A bill that aims to eliminate commercial cannabis gifting and allow physicians assistants’ to write medical marijuana prescriptions in Connecticut passed the House on Tuesday.

House Bill 5329, which includes several amendments, is headed to the Senate. The original bill, which covers a range of issues related to cannabis, drew criticism from marijuana advocates and patients who said it would re-criminalize the substance and outlaw the social gifting that many rely on to get their medicine.

The criminal penalties initially included in the bill have been removed, and there’s specific language to allow social gifting.

The bill passed by a 98-48 vote.

Cannabis gifting is a practice in which consumers purchase a novelty item such as a sticker or a T-shirt and receive marijuana as a “gift” with their purchase. It’s commonly used in Washington, D.C., and was used at festivals such as High Bazaar in Connecticut.

The Hamden festival, which drew hundreds of people, was shut down by a judge’s order because of permitting issues.

The bill now includes language specifying that gifting between people with social relationships is allowed. It’s intended to eliminate the commercial gifting, such as that at festivals, said Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden.

“You can gift to your friends and relatives,” D’Agostino said during the debate on the House floor. “That is still legal and will remain legal after we pass this bill.”

The gifting portion drew criticism. Protesters gathered in front of the state Capitol last month, handing out joints to passersby. They said gifting gives market access to people who can’t get one of a limited number of licenses.

Ivelisse Correa, one of the protesters, said when she graduated from high school, her father wasn’t in the audience. He was incarcerated on cannabis-related charges.

Two decades later, Correa is looking forward to her own daughter’s graduation this spring.

Ivelisse Correa, of Windsor, holds a sign as part of a protest of a bill that would prohibit cannabis gifting. Protesters stood outside the Connecticut state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, gifting cannabis to passersby.
Ivelisse Correa, of Windsor, holds a sign as part of a protest of a bill that would prohibit cannabis gifting. Protesters stood outside the Connecticut state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, giving marijuana to passersby. Ginny Monk

Correa is still pushing for equity in Connecticut’s cannabis market. She says she can’t afford to pay for a chance at a license through the lottery system; if she were to pay, she needs a guarantee. And the gifting market allows people in similar situations to access the market, she said.

“I’m shut out of the market,” Correa said.

D’Agostino said in a previous interview that the bill is about safety. The state has regulations and testing in place for the regulated market.

“These kinds of organized commercial structures are an effort to avoid the entire regulatory structure,” D’Agostino said.

The amended language would also add physicians’ assistants to the list of people allowed to write certifications for medical marijuana cards. It would eliminate fees for renewing and registering those cards for patients starting in 2024.

D’Agostino said projections show that would cost the state about $5 million in fiscal year 2024, although he anticipates that if the fees continued, many would leave the medical program.

“I think if we did nothing, you’d see a lot default to the recreational market,” he said.

He added that the state will soon see revenue from recreational sales. Consumers will likely be able to purchase recreational marijuana in Connecticut by the end of the year.

The amended bill also tries to increase participation by members of the Social Equity Council. If members miss more than three consecutive meetings or more than half of all meetings in a calendar year, they will be treated as if they have resigned and can be replaced.

It also includes restrictions on advertisements for marijuana businesses such as disallowing the use of a cannabis plant in advertisements on illuminated billboards between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The bill passed out of the General Law Committee in March.

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Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter a Report for America corps member. She covers a range of topics, from education and child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021 and covered housing for Hearst Connecticut Media.