As this creative 2010 Craigslist listing reveals, efforts to exchange cannabis for cash or something else of value – even when the law doesn’t permit it – are nothing new.
As Mainers without medical cards patiently await the day when they can walk into a retail cannabis store and buy a brownie or an eighth of their favorite strain, some entrepreneurial growers have decided to get a head start. Despite the Marijuana Legalization Act’s provision that those without a retail license may only transfer recreational cannabis “without remuneration,” the frequent questions I receive on the subject suggest that many growers are looking for ways to skirt that restriction.
These imaginative proposals include accepting “donations” or “fees” (e.g., for packaging and handling) in exchange for cannabis; trading cannabis for other goods or services; or bundling it as a free “gift” with the sale of other items. However, because the law is clear that there can be no remuneration for transfers of non-medical, personal use cannabis, it’s not advisable to try to make an end run by calling an exchange a “gift,” “donation,” or “fee.”
You don’t have to take my word for it: History teaches us that these schemes, while imaginative, have been tried and have failed spectacularly in other states. For instance, after home cultivation was legalized in Colorado starting in December 2012, but before retail sales began in 2014, many people tried to evade Colorado’s “without remuneration” requirement by offering “free” cannabis in exchange for a monetary donation or purchase of a different product. Law enforcement and the courts weren’t impressed, and by January 2013 multiple arrests had been made for such attempts to collect “donations” in exchange for “free” cannabis. In Washington D.C. in 2016, Nicholas Cunningham, owner of Kush Gods, a cannabis edibles delivery service, became part of another cautionary tale after he pleaded guilty to two counts of marijuana distribution for accepting “donations” in exchange for edibles.
The takeaway here is that there’s nothing new under the sun: Creative cannabis donation and gift arrangements have been tried before, and failed. The result is likely to be the same in Maine. The litmus test is whether there is an exchange of value, a quid pro quo. If the person “gifting” the cannabis receives anything in return, the exchange invites law enforcement intervention. Until retail sales are licensed in Maine, likely in mid- to late 2018, those not seeking to become a test case should stick to true donations “without remuneration.” For now, when it comes to cannabis in Maine, you can (and legally have to) get something for nothing.