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State says cannabis 'gifting' is illicit, but who polices the transactions?

The Erie County District Attorney's office says questions about violations should be directed to the state's Office of Cannabis Management.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The state’s Office of Cannabis Management is trying to tamp down on gray market marijuana in the form of so-called “gifts.”

Cannabis events like the one held in Angola on October 10 have been playing out all over the state. The event, "The Greener Mile Market," saw cannabis products change hands, but not directly for sale.

New York State does not have any licensed cannabis retailers yet. To get around that, vendors at the Angola event sold non-cannabis items and then gifted an amount of marijuana to the buyer.

That workaround was shot down Thursday by Cannabis Control Board Chairwoman Tremaine Wright, who said, “The cannabis being exchanged in the transactions described, those remain illicit. There is no gray market in New York State. This conduct is not legal and must stop. Individuals who do nor cease run the risk of severe financial penalties.”

The enforcement of Wright’s declaration is where questions start popping up.

In a statement issued Friday, spokesperson Kait Munro for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office notes, “Based on the statement provided by the Office of Cannabis Management, the gifting of cannabis with the purchase of a non-cannabis item can result in a civil penalty.”

A civil penalty is a remedy imposed by a regulatory agency. It generally is not a law enforcement matter.

Munro would later text, “Our office only handles the violations of criminal penal law.”

Unless sales or possession cross the line of breaking the state law, the Erie County District Attorney’s office does not expect to be involved.

That leaves the Office of Cannabis Management  to attend to the enforcement itself. Right now, 2 On Your Side is unaware of whether it has inspectors or agents that could enforce its regulations.

That does not mean the coast is clear gray market gifting to continue. Attorney Barry Covert says he would advise a client to abstain from pot gifting because the feds may be watching.

“The federal government, nationwide, has come in where there have been transactions that are not strictly following the state regulations that allow those transactions and charged them federally,” Covert said.