D&G Ag Tech farm in Eastford, which grows hemp Credit: Christine Stuart photo

A former cannabis executive is now overseeing the state’s enforcement of the industry, drawing concerns from cannabis and hemp advocates about conflicts of interest and competition.

Jennifer Mandzuk, former CEO at Theraplant, a licensed marijuana producer in Watertown is now a cannabis program manager with the Department of Consumer Protection. 

Jennifer Mandzuk

“It’s pretty common across all of the industries that we regulate to hire subject matter experts who worked in the industry,” DCP spokeswoman Kaitlyn Krasselt said. 

The position oversees investigation and enforcement of Connecticut’s laws and regulations around the sale of both medicinal and recreational marijuana. 

Mandzuk worked at Therplant for nearly nine years, including the last eight months as CEO. She touted, among other things, helping the company expand its medical marijuana operation to also receive a license to also make products for the state’s adult recreational market. 

According to her LinkedIn page, Mandzuk left Theraplant in January. Parent company Greenrose Holding Company sold Theraplant after a foreclosure to NewCo, a subsidiary of DXR Holdco. 

Some advocates who want to see more competition in the state’s cannabis marketplace said the hire sends the wrong message. 

“I believe it looks like a conflict of interest,” said Brant Smith, CEO of hemp grower Hydroclonix LLC. 

Louis Rinaldi, an advocate for medical marijuana patients, raised similar concerns. He said many executives in the marijuana industry are experts in business but not on the science of growing and selling marijuana in a safe manner. 

“A lot of them don’t come from a cannabis background, don’t even come from a science background,” he said. 

Cannabis can easily absorb heavy metals, and can also easily grow mold and yeast. Connecticut, like most states, sets limits ensuring harmful elements are removed from the products. 

DCP did raise the limit for acceptable mold and yeast in medical marijuana at the request of a testing lab. 

Rinaldi is worried state regulators are catering to major marijuana producers, and said Mandzuk’s hire could further that. 

Krasselt said Mandzuk does not have authority to set rules or regulations, which were established by agency officials and state law. 

According to her job description, she’ll manage a team of enforcement staff and train new hires. 

Krasselt said enforcement officers answer to Mandzuk, who then answers to the drug control director. The state also created a deputy director position within DCP to oversee the cannabis market. 

“There’s no discretion involved,” she said. “The law lays out what we can and can’t do.” 

The state has been trying to tighten up its cannabis market. A new law went into effect in July banning the sale of synthetic THC and so-called “high-potency” products by unlicensed retailers. 

Krasselt said the DCP regularly hires people within industry experience to help oversee enforcement, but the agency also has pharmacists to help enforce testing standards for marijuana products. 

Still, Smith said the state should find ways to invite more competition into the marketplace. 

The legislature did consider allowing hemp farmers to cultivate cannabis, but that bill was amended to simply allow licensed vendors to sell manufactured hemp products. The bill did pass. 

“We have a thriving beer craft industry, why can’t we have a thriving craft marijuana industry,” he said.