Marijuana "Gifting" Delivery Services may be in Trouble with the Law
In the absence of guidance from the state, a number of Vermont businesses have begun to share "free" marijuana along with other products or services.
Jody Pearce and Stuart Dowd, both of Burlington, launched a business earlier this month.
They advertise "delivery fees," starting at $40 for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana — cash only — and scaling up to $280 for a full ounce.
"We're a courier service," Pearce said of the business, Weedy's Warehouse. "We can deliver you mail, we can deliver you soda, we can deliver you whatever you want, but you're paying for delivery."
Their deliveries so far have been exclusively marijuana, Pearce said. Using Facebook as a way to find customers, Pearce said the company has delivered as many as 100 packages of flower or edibles to the greater Burlington area within the first few weeks of marijuana legalization.
"I want to be a legitimate entrepreneur. I want to be a legitimate businessman," Dowd said. "And it's not out of the realm of possibility. I mean, if everybody can cooperate and we can sit down, and we can all talk about this like adults do, and we can work it out."
The two men agreed to speak about their operation despite uncertainty and risk that it may run afoul of Vermont and federal law.
Adults who are at least 21 years old may now legally possess limited amounts of marijuana, and there are no criminal penalties for dispensing up to 1 ounce of marijuana, which includes giving it away. But anyone convicted of "knowingly and unlawfully" selling marijuana can still face prison time and fines.
Social media posts and state business registration records show a number of cannabis-related businesses based in residential areas in Winooski, Colchester and Burlington.
Another delivery service, Rolling Flower, launched July 1, the day marijuana became legal in Vermont.
"I welcome and I wish for clearer guidance from the state as to how businesses like mine can operate responsibly," said Andrew Burns, the founder of delivery service Rolling Flower, in a Monday interview with Heady Vermont.
Vermont law is unclear about what qualifies as a marijuana "gift" when it comes to a business transaction. The Attorney General's Office said it would release guidance on the issue in the coming days, perhaps early next week.
Entrepreneurs elsewhere in the United States operate under clearer boundaries. D.C. and Massachusetts specifically allow people to transfer up to 1 ounce of marijuana "without remuneration," a standard used by other states. Massachusetts adds that the transfer cannot be "advertised or promoted to the public."
"What the businesses are doing is certainly creative," said Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who helped to craft the marijuana law as chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.
She said lawmakers may revisit the issue in 2019 and consider other states' language.
"It's not clear that it is in violation of the law. It certainly is something that needs to be addressed."
Sen. Dick Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, believes that "free gifts" of cannabis are illegal when they're paired with delivery fees or an overpriced item such as an expensive T-shirt.
"It's a quid pro quo," said Sears, D-Bennington. The Legislature's lawyers agreed, Sears said, when he recently asked them for an opinion.
"What it will take, though," Sears said, "is some charges filed by a state’s attorney."
Department of Public Safety spokesman Adam Silverman said state law enforcement officials "will be working closely with state’s attorneys' offices and the Attorney General’s Office on how to handle instances like this on a case-by-case basis."
At least two towns, Newport and Manchester, have passed civil ordinances against the sale or distribution of marijuana. The ordinances are untested.
Sears and other lawmakers say the best way to address the gray market would be to set up a taxed and regulated marijuana market in Vermont. In the meantime, he offered a single piece of advice for businesses dealing with marijuana: "Hire a good lawyer."