Gov. Ned Lamont’s pick for consumer protection commissioner received bipartisan praise during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, but cannabis equity groups came armed with tough questions.
If approved, Fairfield attorney Bryan Cafferelli will be the second Republican to join the Lamont administration. He previously worked in DCP’s drug control division, mainly working on pharmaceutical regulations. Cafferelli currently serves as legal counsel for Connecticut Senate Republicans.
As commissioner, Cafferelli would oversee the state’s budding retail cannabis industry, which just launched two months ago.
“I’m not at the agency yet, but from what I’ve seen and heard, the rollout has gone very well,” Cafferelli told lawmakers.
But social equity groups sharply disagreed.
“There has been no real racial equity,” said Ivelisse Correa with Good Trouble Advocacy. “We only have one Black-owned dispensary right now in the state of Connecticut that’s operating.”
Caferelli pledged to work with lawmakers to reform the social equity license process. Last year, News 12 Connecticut reported that applicants with wealthy out-of-state backers flooded the lottery process, crowding out smaller applicants.
During a confirmation hearing that one lawmakers dubbed a “love fest,” legislators from both parties heaped praise on Cafferelli but asked few detailed questions about how he plans to regulate cannabis or Connecticut’s emerging sports betting industry.
“You’re so affable and just a joy to be around,” said state Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), the state Senate minority leader.
Democrats also said Cafferelli brings years of “compassionate” experience to the job.
“I’m pleased that the governor has nominated you,” said state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), the top Democrat in the Connecticut Senate. “You’ve always played it down the middle.”
But some activists questioned the nominee’s ties to a prominent cannabis entrepreneur. Cafferelli was chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. Three years ago, Fedele was named chairman of the board at CTPharma, one of the state’s largest marijuana growers.
“He could potentially show favoritism to his former client, Michael Fedele,” said Joseph Accettullo with CT CannaWarriors. “And this is exactly one of the problems that is plaguing our entire industry.”
The legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee did not ask Cafferelli about CTPharma.
When asked about advocates’ concerns on Friday, Lamont said: “Bryan’s going to be a great commissioner. I’ll tell you why. He’s been there; he’s served. He’s going to streamline that agency. He’s going to be a champion for consumers.”
Aside from cannabis, Lamont’s pick also pledged to reduce “unnecessary” paperwork requirements on businesses.
“We do not want to, in any way, jeopardize consumer safety or the guardrails in place for that, but we want to also telegraph to businesses to make sure that businesses know that we’re looking out to make sure that we’re not overly burdensome,” he said.
A legislative committee unanimously approved Cafferelli Tuesday afternoon. The full state Senate will vote soon.