Angela Mandzuk, a former employee of cannabis cultivator Theraplant, has been hired by the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) to serve as the state program manager for cannabis.
Despite DCP spokesperson Kaitlyn Krasselt’s insistence that there is no inherent conflict of interest in the appointment, the move has sparked concerns about bias and potential conflict within Connecticut’s emerging legal cannabis industry.
Mandzuk, who will be paid an annual salary of $96,287 in her new capacity, declined to comment on the situation at this time. Krasselt said hiring industry experts like Mandzuk was crucial for ensuring experienced staff within regulatory agencies.
According to Krasselt, employees in these situations are not required to seek formal approval from the Office of State Ethics. The code of ethics does not prohibit public officials from making decisions affecting their former employers.
Theraplant’s Influence on Connecticut’s Cannabis Industry
Theraplant is one of the major players in Connecticut’s cannabis industry, being the first cannabis cultivator in the state when medical marijuana was legalized in 2015. The company and other cannabis firms have spent an incredible amount of dollars lobbying for legal recreational use, which is now well underway.
State Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) proposed creating a cannabis ombudsman position earlier in 2023 to address potential conflict. He admits he does not know enough about Mandzuk’s background or the constraints of her position at Theraplant but acknowledged the appointment might raise concerns.
Appointments of Cafferelli and Mandzuk Raise Suspicions
Another recent appointment raising eyebrows is that of Michael Cafferelli as deputy commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. Cafferelli’s prior experience includes serving as drug control attorney for DCP, legal counsel for the Connecticut Senate Republican Office, and working with administrative action, regulatory and statutory development for drug enforcement cases, and rule-making processes.
Looking Forward: Addressing Bias and Conflict in the Cannabis Industry
- Appointing knowledgeable candidates from within the industry while ensuring transparency and regular audits to maintain public trust.
- Establishing clear guidelines for decision-making processes within regulatory agencies to minimize potential conflicts of interest.
- Creating an ombudsman role, as proposed by State Rep. Jason Rojas, to address concerns and maintain objectivity in the industry’s governance structure.
While experienced staff appointments like Angela Mandzuk may be crucial for competent oversight of Connecticut’s cannabis industry, public officials must also acknowledge and address ongoing concerns regarding bias and conflict emanating from these appointments.