In November 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use. But nearly two years later, there are still no stores licensed to sell pot to the public. One business owner now she faces criminal charges for trying to find a way around the roadblock.
The North-Andover Eagle Tribune reports:
Sandra Kattar of Haverhill faces distribution of marijuana charges after an undercover sting found her exchanging small amounts of marijuana for products at Humble Bumble in Methuen last year.
Authorities were tipped off that Humble Bumble, a since-closed health and wellness store, would overcharge for regular items. In return, customers were "'gifted' specific amounts of a green, leafy substance consistent with marijuana," per court documents.
Local police set up a sting operation. According to a police report, an undercover officer visited the store in September and asked Kattar, who co-owned the business, for "the strong stuff." He was told to buy an unrelated item for $45, which he did, and was then given an eighth of an ounce of weed, nominally for free.
The officer came back a few days later and was gifted more weed. But when a different officer called the store the next day, he was apparently told the gifting program was no more. Why? The previous night, the Methuen City Council had banned recreational marijuana facilities.
It's not clear where Humble Bumble broke the law. It wasn't technically selling marijuana to customers, and it seems like the store did its best to comply with local regulations. Still, Essex County District Attorney's Office Carrie Kimball Monahan tells the Eagle Tribune that there was "sufficient evidence to suggest a crime had been committed."
Kattar's attorney, Joe Goldberg-Giuliano, unsuccessfully attempted to have to have the case dismissed. "There is no law in Massachusetts that expressly prohibits gifting cannabis as incidental to a separate commercial transaction," his motion read.
He's right. Under Massachusetts law, it's not illegal to give away weed for free. The transfer simply can't be "advertised or promoted to the public." Other companies in the state have been taking advantage of this loophole as well. But according to Goldberg-Giuliano, only Kattar has been prosecuted.
Gifting weed isn't just a Massachusetts phenomenon. In Washington, D.C., marijuana is legal for recreational use, but federal law has kept stores from legally selling it. Those circumstances have given rise to lots of gifting; the D.C. authorities appear to be cracking down.
Legal technicalities aside, marijuana shouldn't be so difficult to obtain when it's already legal.
In Massachusetts, voters decided a long time ago they had no problem with allowing a trade in recrational pot. Slow-moving lawmakers and pointless regulations then made gifting necessary. If authorities want this practice to end, they should let the legal alternatives flower.