Andrea Comer, a Consumer Protection Department official and central figure in the rollout of Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis market, will leave the agency at the end of the month in order to serve as chief of staff to incoming state Treasurer Erick Russell.
Comer’s departure, first reported Monday by Hearst columnist Dan Haar, comes just weeks before Jan. 10, the date on which recreational cannabis retailers will open their doors for the first time here in Connecticut.
In addition to serving as a deputy commissioner at the consumer protection agency, Comer has led the state Social Equity Council, a panel created by the 2021 law legalizing cannabis and designed to ensure the new market includes businesses owned and run by people from communities impacted by the war on drugs.
In an interview Monday, Comer said her transition out of the DCP was unplanned and came about due to a serendipitous opportunity.
“When the [state treasurer’s] transition team reached out and said they wanted to talk with me, I thought this might be another opportunity to further equity efforts in the state,” Comer said. “Is the timing optimal? I guess I’ll leave that to greater minds to determine, but I think this first phase is just about complete in terms of the launch of the market on Jan. 10.”
Throughout various roles in and around government, Comer said she has sought to advance policies that offer a fair shake to folks in disadvantaged communities.
“Growing up in Yonkers, [New York] and having access and opportunities that so many folks that look like me have not, I’ve always felt this internal charge to further equity in any way I can,” she said.
In addition to her time leading the council, Comer’s resume includes a year-long position at the state’s Paid Family Leave Authority, a program she said spares people of all income levels from needing to decide between a paycheck and caring for their loved ones.
At the state treasure’s office, Comer said she looked forward to advancing policies like the baby bonds program and helping to enhance diversity among the vendors with which state government contracts.
Asked to assess the degree to which equity applicants have a stake in the cannabis market that launches next month, Comer acknowledged it was limited at the moment.
But that initial outcome was predetermined by the law that set the new market in motion. The statute positioned the multi-state operators who already produce cannabis for Connecticut’s medical marijuana program as having first access to the recreational market.
“When we opened the window for them, we also opened the window for [social equity] cultivators but they still need, once they get their licenses, six to nine months to grow their product,” Comer said. “So that puts them a little late in the start of this race to become players in the way that medical marijuana producers are.”
Whether equity businesses will eventually carve out a wider foothold in the new market remains to be seen. The prospect of changes to cannabis’s legal status on the federal level could also shake up markets already established in states like Connecticut, Comer said.
“While [Connecticut’s] legislation is not perfect, we continue to have these bites at the apple through the legislative process,” Comer said. “But I do believe that during the year, you will see the emergence of folks who have been in these communities that have been harmed by the war on drugs standing up businesses, whether it’s a delivery service or a retail business. I will be excited when that day comes.”