Cannabis Control Commission Comms Collapse Continues

Image of the Cannabis Control Commission’s Worcester building by Video Betty

With deadlines approaching and fires on multiple fronts, regulator rapport regresses at first meeting following bombshell leadership announcement

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission continued to work through internal communications problems during its Aug. 10 meeting, but progress didn’t come easy in the wake of last month’s unexpected announcement that Executive Director Shawn Collins was effectively leaving his post in a matter of days.

A staple at the agency’s public meetings who presented data, answered general questions, and essentially helped run the show, Collins helmed the CCC for more than five years, shepherding the brand new agency through growing pains and infrastructural development as the adult-use market came into existence. (The CCC does not discuss personnel matters, but told CommonWealth, “The Executive Director has not resigned and continues to serve in his current role; however, he is temporarily out of the office.”)

At the start of this week’s meeting, O’Brien read from a prepared statement, thanking her colleagues for their hard work on various issues and apologizing for the way she shared the stunning HR news. While Collins had informed the chair in May that he intended to step down from his role in the fall, O’Brien waited until the July 28 meeting to tell other CCC members.

The chair spoke further about the Collins announcement during a post-meeting press conference on Thursday: “I was not graceful in doing it, but I felt like I was protecting them and the commission,” O’Brien said. “I apologize for what I did. Last meeting was unorthodox. It took away from the moment and the work that so many people here have dedicated themselves to—that has really lingered in my mind. It showed a lack of consideration of the groundwork that was done by the prior iteration of the mission.”

Speaking generally, the chair added, “I think it’s time for the commission to take some sharp self-reflection. … It’s time for us to assess how we’ve been doing work as an agency.”

Her concessions hardly smoothed things over. Later in the meeting, Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion pushed back on O’Brien’s handling of an agenda item regarding rules that have been especially burdensome for delivery operators. A discussion about policy rewrites that could help microbusiness licensees (which previously came up during a May CCC meeting) met a similar fate, with commissioners not even able to agree on how they would make changes official if they agreed on what they should change in the first place.

“There is an assumption that the work isn’t happening,” Concepcion said. (Ed. note: As we noted in a separate article about this week’s meeting’s impact on certain businesses, delivery licensees previously aired out their grievances to commissioners at a June 2022 roundtable discussion, then again at a Mass Cannabis Business Association gathering in March of this year, and during a virtual roundtable this May with commissioners.)

In her turn, the chair acknowledged that her colleagues “are going out,” “working,” and “talking” to stakeholders, but conceded there is more work to be done to maintain positive lines of communication internally. “I need to do a better job of gathering information regarding the individual work that’s being done so that we know who’s doing what,” O’Brien said.

Concepcion seemed unconvinced, saying, “This is what happens when there’s an agenda that is set without talking to any of the other commissioners about what’s on the agenda and not gathering the information recorded.”

By that point, the tone of the meeting had retrogressed, after comments made by O’Brien early on seemed to drastically overlook commission efforts to research issues and gather stakeholder input over the past several months.

“A year ago, the legislature passed Chapter 180 [An Act Relative To Equity In The Cannabis Industry, which set a November 2023 deadline for the CCC to approve a number of regulatory changes]. We still have not completed the regulatory rewriting process. We began late,” the chair said. “The bill was passed in August; we were not convened to do this regulatory writing until about February of this year. And so one of the things I want to ask my fellow commissioners is, going forward, is that rather than us be driven by the staff, or led by the staff, I think that we need to come to a consensus as to what [the CCC’s] priorities are and I think that we need to start assigning work groups.”

O’Brien continued, “I would like us to look at testing, I would like us to look at research, I would like us to look at other regulatory changes. And I’m going to be asking all of you in the next week or so to have those conversations with me so I can determine how we might best distribute this work going forward.”