I-Team Investigation: Marijuana gifting in Connecticut

Marijuana gifting in Connecticut, part 2.
Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 5:15 PM EST
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(WFSB) – An I-Team Investigation is putting the spotlight on cannabis in Connecticut.

Right now, it’s illegal to buy or sell for recreational use.

That is not stopping hundreds of people from getting their hands on marijuana each weekend at an event called High Bazaar.

It happens in Hamden and is being described as a “private party.”

Chief Investigative Reporter Matthew Campbell got invited last weekend.

On a January morning with subzero windchill, hundreds clogged the streets off of Sherman Avenue in Hamden to get into this unassuming industrial building.

When they exited, they left with this:

“Drinks and edibles, really stuff that I can’t get at the dispensary,” said Matt from Wallingford.

“The coffee is pretty good, it’s in the sugar and the cream,” said Joe of Oxford.

Since legal dispensaries are not set to open in Connecticut until much later this year, the I-Team had some of the same questions you probably have: What is inside this building and is what’s going on legal?

Marijuana gifting in Connecticut, part 1.

High Bazaar is described as a “private party.”

The video you’re seeing is from their public Instagram page.

It’s like a marketplace.

Different exhibitors showcase art and apparel. There is also music.

The main attraction is cannabis.

“A way to build the entire community while using cannabis at its core,” said Joseph Raymond, co-founder of High Bazaar.

Joseph Raymond and Cody Roberts are the co-founders of High Bazaar.

They say it’s a community of small marijuana growers when compared to the larger corporate dispensaries.

Think of how craft beer makers operate mainly on a smaller and local scale.

Since Connecticut legalized recreational marijuana in July, people have been attending High Bazaar.

Eyewitness News was invited by the founders, but their landlord asked us to leave when we arrived last Saturday.

“Sometimes the cameras can scare some of the medical patients and veterans,” Raymond said.

We’re going to show you how it works using the video found on their public Instagram page.

The founders say that there are exhibitors in the building, the people with booths.

They pay High Bazaar a fee to set up their exhibits.

The founders say it runs anywhere from $20 to $200.

The people browsing are patrons.

Medicinal patients and veterans get in for free.

All others entering the tent pay $20.

“You’re touching, you’re smelling. There’s a very hands-on approach to it,” Raymond said.

How does someone actually walk out with cannabis?

It’s illegal to sell or purchase recreational marijuana in Connecticut until late 2022.

To get around that, Eyewitness News learned the exhibitors at High Bazaar use a “gifting” system.

Raymond went through the gifting process:

“I gotta show you, my friend, what I’ve been telling you about all week. Red Tommies.”

“That’s on me, my friend, that’s for you. Check this out, I also wanted to share something with you. It’s called Lava Cake.”

“It’s savory. That thing smells like a steak on a Sunday.”

Raymond says that’s how gifting works, but not everyone who walks in comes with cannabis to gift to others.

Matt, a medicinal patient in Wallingford, explained his gifting process.

“If you see something you like, you talk to them about it and they’ll say, ‘if you want it, go ahead take it, if you want to make a donation, go ahead.’ If not, you can still have it,” Matt said.

“You can walk away without donating or gifting money? You can walk with it?” Eyewitness News asked.

“Not everything. Every vendor is different is the best way I can describe that,” Matt said.

The state has gifting guidelines for marijuana:

  • Individuals may gift adult-use cannabis to others but may not sell it.
  • Gifting does not include instances where marijuana is given away at the same time as another transaction between the same parties.
  • Medical marijuana products can’t be gifted to non-patients either.

It’s important to note the amount of cannabis people are going home with.

The state allows possession and use of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis.

Residents may also store up to 5 ounces in a locked container.

“We follow the laws, we allow what the patient or recreational allotment is and as long as everyone is within their means of the law, everything is good there,” Raymond said.

The I-Team wanted the state to weigh in on what happens each weekend and we had a tough time getting answers.

The Department of Consumer Protection deals with marijuana licensing, so the I-Team started there.

Eyewitness News was told because none of these exhibitors are licensed, state police should be contacted.

State police referred the I-Team to the Chief State’s Attorney, who suggested we contact Hamden Police and asked if this is legal.

Hamden Police didn’t answer directly, instead giving this statement: “The Hamden Police Department advises that the organizers of any marijuana related events operate within accordance of local, state and federal laws,” said Detective Sean J. Dolan.

“Talking with these agencies, it’s like Dorothy meeting the scarecrow. You’re being pointed in different directions and no one is taking accountability for this,” said House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora (R – 86th District).

The I-Team showed Candelora the videos.

“They’re using loopholes that were in the law to sort of allow for these illicit transactions to occur legally,” Candelora said. “This certainly does violate the spirit of the law and I think it comes down to bad drafting of legislation.”

Thousands of dollars flow through the barn each weekend, so the I-Team wanted to follow the money.

Some goes toward armed security, and attorney and EMTs, all who are on-site.

“We’re a legal business. We’re a production company at the end of the day,” Raymond said.

Raymond says they pay taxes as a production company business that produces these “private parties.”

“I love to pay taxes. I want to pay taxes. I pay taxes,” Raymond said.

The exhibitors don’t pay taxes, and because everything is being “gifted” they’re not required to.

Candelora doesn’t like that.

“This is an illegal commercialization of marijuana through a black market. They’re not paying taxes, they’re not being regulated, they’re not paying for licenses,” Candelora said.

Hamden’s Mayor Lauren Garrett is aware of these weekend exhibitions.

“They’ve definitely found a way to operate under the current law,” Garrett said.

As the city moves toward deciding whether dispensaries will be allowed within its borders, she’s given High Bazaar members an opportunity to be heard.

“I think they chose Hamden because they feel safe here,” said Garrett.

High Bazaar does more than just produce these weekly events.

Each Wednesday, they hold what amounts to a business class for their exhibitors.

They lay out a blueprint of what they’ll need to do once dispensaries are cleared to open.

They say this is their way of making it equitable for all.

“What we build in the long run will be greater than the piles of money we could’ve made if we went this other route,” Raymond said.

Their exhibitors appreciate it.

“When people want to move from the High Bazaar to a legitimate business, they’re going to offer funding, they’re going to offer legal and other sources of support,” said Luis Delgado, an exhibitor.

It will be interesting to see what changes once Hamden crafts its cannabis ordinance.

It will result in marijuana getting taxed when sold, so the I-Team asked the founders what will happen to High Bazaar and the gifting that happens there.

They say High Bazaar is always evolving but will always be a platform for the cannabis culture no matter what and they intend to be there for a very long time.