For most of us, a bottle of wine wrapped in a festive bag is the perfect catch-all gift during the holiday season. It’s easy, relatively inexpensive and nearly everybody appreciates the gift.
As cannabis legalization spreads to more states, the idea of gifting a bud or two has gained acceptance. Last week, Kwame Anthony Appiah, the New York Times resident ethicist, was asked by a physician if accepting a gift of marijuana was OK. Here is how Appiah responded:
I am a physician practicing in a state where marijuana is legal, both medicinally and recreationally. I will occasionally receive a bottle of wine from a patient as a token of gratitude. Recently, I was offered some marijuana by a patient for this reason. I did not accept, but would it have been wrong if I had?
It isn’t unusual for grateful patients to give small gifts to their doctors. Large gifts can create problems in professional relationships; small ones really don’t. Indeed, refusing them can seem disrespectful, as if you thought the patient was inappropriately seeking future favors. But in a society like ours, where so many different cultural traditions live side by side, it can sometimes be hard to figure out a gift giver’s motives or expectations. All this means that the context and meaning of a gift are going to matter. So my answer to the question whether you should have accepted the pot is: only in circumstances in which it would have been fine to take the wine.
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Of course, if you wanted to avoid the complexities, you could adopt a policy of not accepting any gifts at all. That way you could truthfully say, “That’s very kind of you, but I have a policy of not accepting gifts from patients.” A response like that might still be regarded as disrespectful by people in some communities, with contrary customs, but that’s much less likely if you report your refusal as one of your own customs.