“We will be looking for a new executive director … That will be the next step, but they are big shoes to fill.”
You never know what kind of bombshell might drop at a meeting of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Today, it came from acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion, who opened with a stunner: “We have received notice from Executive Director Shawn Collins that he will be resigning effective December 4th.” Concepcion then read from the outgoing director’s letter to commissioners:
Serving as the commission’s inaugural executive director has easily been the most profound and rewarding professional opportunity of my life. No matter what my future holds, I am confident that the ability to help create new government while ushering in the migration of cannabis legalization in the Commonwealth cannot be matched by any other professional pursuits. As a result I am eternally grateful to you, madam acting chair, all commissioners passed and present, and most especially the immensely talented public servants that comprise the agency staff. I have learned something everyday in this role in that privilege will never be lost on me.
Collins’s employment status had been unclear since an announcement at the CCC’s July 28 meeting which shocked members of the public and commissioners alike …
“Before the second May meeting of the commission,” CCC Chair Shannon O’Brien said, “[Collins] said to me, Today I am going to announce that I am leaving at the end of the year. And that I intend to take my family leave, having just had a new baby, starting in September and I will leave [the commission permanently] after the regulatory process is done.”
O’Brien, who has since been suspended in another intersecting plotline touching the agency’s ongoing human resources drama and leadership struggle, continued at the July meeting: “I asked [Collins] not to announce that day [in May]. It was a little bit out of the blue and I said, I would ask that you wait. We are in the process of hiring a new chief people officer, we’re hiring a new general counsel, we are depleted in terms of some of our top management and staff to not only help us get through regulatory writing but to exercise the important responsibilities that we have.”
The headlines reverberated beyond the Mass cannabis industry, with news of disagreements between commissioners and other CCC behavior even reaching national weed publications. Many latched onto O’Brien’s comments that “we are in crisis right now as a commission,” and regarding a “need to make sure that we can manage through this regulatory process.”
Collins has been a central figure at the CCC, often presenting data at meetings and demonstrating his attentiveness to various matters of business before the fast-growing agency. He’s also the agency’s longest-serving staff member.
Following a month of silence from the CCC on the matter and general confusion among industry watchers and stakeholders, Collins appeared at the North East Regional Cannabis Symposium held at the DCU Center in Worcester in late August. Following a panel that he spoke on, I asked him flat out if he was still the CCC’s executive director. To which he replied in the affirmative: “I still work here.” Adding, “Personally, we had a baby as a family, and that’s essentially the explanation—parental leave. Other than that, I’m working full-time, on the clock.”
But as we learned this morning, Collins will not return. After reading from his letter, acting Chair Concepcion thanked Collins, who was not present, “for the incredible job that he has done holding this agency from the beginning.” Commissioner Nurys Camargo added: “Standing up an agency is not easy—recruiting members, hiring them, training them, coaching them, mentoring, pushing back, and leaning in is not an easy role.”
Moving forward, Concepcion said, “We will be looking for a new executive director … That will be the next step, but they are big shoes to fill.” Camargo said, “It’s going to be a process to find the right person, and it’s going to take time.”
Toward the end of today’s meeting, during which commissioners addressed research licenses as well as potential changes to the microbusiness license type, members spoke briefly about what it will take to fill those shoes.
“We need to look at the job description and probably redefine it,” Commissioner Kimberly Roy said. “Agencies change, and as a body we have to decide what qualifications we’re looking for in our next leader.”
Roy said this will give commissioners an opportunity to draw lines between what falls under their purview, and what’s handled by staff members under the top director. “It starts with us in a way … and what we want to take back under our statutory authority,” Roy said. “Maybe we can start with that. And then we’ll know that this is back with us or that is with the [executive director]. It’s a really important and timely discussion that we need to have.”
At a media availability following today’s meeting, Concepcion said that while it’s a “priority” to replace Collins, the commission has functioned efficiently on many fronts despite so much uncertainty in leadership. Last week, the four current CCC members, unable to break a stalemate since their tiebreaking fifth member is suspended, spent nearly two hours debating who should take the helm as acting chair.
“There’s always something happening,” Concepcion said. “Maybe not to this magnitude, but I’m now accustomed to things happening. … We’ve been fully functioning for months now. [Executive Director Collins] helped us get there, but we’ve been able to do that in his absence.”
In mid-October, with the assumption that Collins would be out on leave until early December, commissioners unanimously approved Chief People Officer Debra Hilton-Creek to fill in as the acting executive director.