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7 Gifts That May Be Illegal to Give

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, filled with plenty of cheer. Gift givers and receivers delight in the surprises that those brightly wrapped and decorated boxes contain. However, there are some gifts that you might want to be extra careful about giving.

Below you'll find a list of 7 types of gifts that might have some unexpected legal consequences.

1. Weapons

Giving the gift of guns, knives, and bb guns, may seem like a great idea if you're shopping for a hunter or weapons enthusiast, but you may want to think twice and research the law in your state. There are strict rules about gun ownership in many states, and there are strict regulations about taking weapons across state lines (if you are travelling for the holidays). Many gun laws are felonies, which could mean serious prison time. There are similar laws that pertain to certain types or lengths of knives, such as switchblades or butterfly knives.

And for those wanting to give a kid their first bb gun, while you should definitely talk to the parents first, most states prohibit minors from buying or having them and some places like New York City require a license for a bb gun.

2. Drugs and Alcohol

While marijuana has been legalized for recreational adult use in a handful of states, in most of the country, it is still illegal. In states where it is illegal, gifting marijuana, like any other illegal drug (and sometimes just drug paraphernalia), can get you arrested. So, unless you are in a legal marijuana state, gifting someone a tray of pot brownies or large gift wrapped package of marijuana could actually get you in legal trouble.

Also, while the ban on absinthe may no longer be in effect, there are still certain spirits that are illegal in some states. For example, Maryland bans the sale of grain alcohol (190 proof or above spirits). Also, don't ship your alcohol via the USPS, because that is illegal and they'll confiscate it.

3. Bootlegs

While it may be enticing to buy a stack of bootlegged recordings, whether they are DVDs, CDs, or even just a thumb drive, these are illegal and you can be arrested for buying them. So avoid the table on the sidewalk with the $1 DVDs, CDs, and video games.

Another word of warning, sometimes bootlegged media sellers will just be selling blank CDs.

4. Illegal Imports, Counterfeit or Stolen Merchandise

Anything that was illegally smuggled into the country, counterfeited, or stolen, should be avoided when making gift buying decisions. This is especially true for counterfeit toys.

When it comes to illegal imports and stolen merchandise, if discovered, these items can be taken into custody by law enforcement, and land your gift recipient in legal trouble as well.

5. Exotic Animals

Exotic animals are extraordinarily precious. Some are extraordinarily rare. So much so that most of them are illegal to own, buy, sell, or gift.

6. Gifts to Officers, Teachers, Public Employees

Giving gifts to public employees, especially those in service industries can actually be illegal. A large problem with giving gifts to government employees is the crime of bribery. While a gift giver's intent may not be to secure favorable treatment, it is difficult to avoid that appearance. While you may not be arrested for over-tipping your mailman, if your gift is viewed as a bribe, you could be arrested and prosecuted.

If you're planning to give a holiday gift to your child's teacher, note that there are likely state or local laws limiting what can be given. Such as in Massachusetts, where a teacher may have to disclose a gift in a letter of recommendation.

7. Really Expensive Gifts - Tax Considerations

Generally, giving large cash gifts or very expensive gifts create tax liabilities for both giver and recipient. The IRS has an annual limit that is currently $14k, which is actually an aggregate limit for the gifts you give to everyone (up until $14k, gifts are tax free). However, getting arrested, audited, or penalized is easily avoidable by not evading your tax obligations.

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