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Reporter's Notebook: Shake-up coming for Connecticut's cannabis regulator

Flower buds of a Cannabis indica.
NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images
Flower buds of a Cannabis indica.

Connecticut will see important positions regulating the industry change hands. The announcements come as the state reaches a milestone with the launch of adult-use sales.

Amid a major expansion of the cannabis industry, Connecticut will soon have new leaders in key positions overseeing legal marijuana.

Andréa Comer, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Consumer Protection, is leaving her post to become chief of staff for the incoming state treasurer.

Comer played a guiding role in the development of the state’s recreational marijuana program and chaired the Social Equity Council, the group formed to ensure that those harmed by enforcement of drug laws can participate in the legal cannabis market.

And another staff exit is on the horizon. DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull will step down sometime in 2023.

With the departures, Connecticut will see important positions regulating the industry change hands. And the announcements come as the state reaches a milestone: the launch of adult-use sales, slated for Jan. 10. What does the shake-up mean for the industry?

The Accountability Project recently traced the history of Connecticut’s most well-established cannabis businesses, examining whether they fulfilled plans made during the licensing process to give back to their communities.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut for a decade, and dispensaries serving some 50,000 medical patients operate throughout the state.

Medical marijuana dispensaries will now be first to enter the recreational market, thanks in part to the design of Connecticut’s competitive licensing process. Medical dispensaries converting into hybrid retailers are exempt from the lottery, removing one potential obstacle.

In an investigation published in Decemer, The Accountability Project reported that early commitments made by some medical dispensary operators appear to have gone unfulfilled. Thirty-five organizations that were intended to benefit from donations or other support said they have no record of getting assistance from the dispensaries.

Our reporting showed consolidation in the industry is partly responsible; bigger companies bought up dispensary licenses and implemented their own operational plans. Some new owners told us they donate regularly to charity, though not necessarily to the organizations that were intended to benefit. One said it went above and beyond its stated charitable goals.

Lawmakers crafted the 2021 measure that legalized adult-use marijuana sales to include stronger mechanisms for promoting social equity goals, including the formation of the council.

DCP has now approved requests from nine of the 18 existing medical dispensaries to become hybrid retailers, meaning they can sell cannabis to medical and non-medical customers. Numerous applications from others vying to enter the market are pending.

Seagull, who heads the Department of Consumer Protection, is expected to stay on through the first quarter of 2023 to oversee the launch of the cannabis market and assist with the transition of her position.

Responding to questions about Seagull’s departure, a DCP spokeswoman said the department is ready to oversee the rollout of adult-use sales, regardless of staffing changes at the top.

“DCP has built out an excellent team of more than 40 people in the Drug Control and Legal divisions that currently – and will continue – to oversee the day-to-day regulation and licensing of the Adult Use Cannabis Market,” she wrote. “We do not anticipate there will be any disruption or change of plans. We expect a smooth opening of the market on Jan. 10.”

Jim Haddadin is an editor for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer at NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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