Massachusetts Police Told to Look Out for Pot-Selling Funny Business

An advisory to police from the governor's office points to 'sham transactions.'

Marijuana buds and a large stack of 100 US dollar money notes isolated on white background.

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No, you can’t sell a T-shirt that just happens to come with a baggie of marijuana.

You can’t just leave a pot brownie on your friend’s coffee table and then, lo and behold, discover a crisp $20 bill on that same coffee table. You can’t barter a festive holiday fruitcake for a freshly rolled blunt, either.

That’s because, while Massachusetts’ brand new marijuana law allows people to use, possess, and grow marijuana, it’s still illegal to sell it. The first legal marijuana shops aren’t slated to open until the start of January, 2018, at the earliest. And although the law permits sharing small amounts of your stash (up to an ounce) with someone else, you aren’t legally allowed to get anything in return.

So police have been told to watch out for attempts to skirt the law with any cute ideas, particularly ones posted online.

An advisory Dan Bennett, public safety secretary, sent to police departments on the eve of legalization describes a “complex web” of new rules cops will have to navigate beginning at midnight, when the law takes effect. It includes this excerpt:

As noted above, the new regime allows persons not licensed to operate a marijuana establishment to “gift” marijuana in quantities under one ounce, but not to sell marijuana in any quantity. Attempts to evade this safe harbor with delayed or disguised payments, contemporaneous reciprocal “gifts” of money or items of value, or other sham transactions, will remain a criminal act. … Simply put, where a person is not operating under the required license, any of the following forms of marijuana distribution remain criminal offenses:

  • Giving or selling any amount of marijuana to a person under 21 in any circumstance, even if possession by the purchaser is non-criminal.
  • Selling marijuana in any amount, to any person, of any age.
  • ‘Gifting’ more than one ounce to any person, of any age.

These suspicions about “sham transactions” don’t come out of nowhere. There are plenty of examples of creative approaches to selling unregulated weed, particularly in states where the drug is legal, but impossible to buy without breaking the law. In D.C., where residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2014 (but where Congress has starved the city of funds to regulate legal marijuana shops, so none have opened), a company called HighSpeed started selling bottles of juice for $55 or more. The juice comes with a “gift”: a bag of marijuana.

Another D.C. entrepreneur last year around the city accepting “donations” in exchange for pot brownies and THC-laced gummy bears. In that case, police pounced and staged a sting operation. Its mastermind, part of a group calling itself the “Kush Gods,” wound up pleading guilty to distribution charges.

Even in Colorado, a state teeming with legal marijuana stores, there have been reports of people offering to deliver marijuana to people’s doorsteps, in exchange for, you guessed it, “donations.”

But while technically against the law, it remains to be seen how much time and energy police will actually invest in busting small-time dealers starting today, especially those who aren’t broadcasting their services online, in the media, or with a smartphone app. The advisory to police, Bennett wrote, “is not intended to direct how your department elects to prioritize its enforcement efforts.” And if you ask Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who voted in favor of Question 4 but supports overhauling the law, cracking down on less-than-obvious deals will probably prove difficult.

“I suspect it’s not going to be easy to have zero tolerance, even though that should be the law,” he told the radio station WCAP, according to the State House News Service. “If somebody happens to walk out their house with six joints in their pocket, and just happens to bump into somebody who they give the six joints to, and they happen to put $10 on the table, or whatever it is—that may not be easy to ferret out.”