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Cannabis Control Commission Meeting Goes Off Rails

Pictured: Cannabis Control Commission members meet in person last December

“These actions have created intense upheaval, discord, and instability within our staff.”

The first three hours of today’s public meeting of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission were calm. The body worked efficiently through conversations about helping businesses manage the delinquent payment problem, as well as on the agency’s participation in an upcoming hearing on Beacon Hill about hemp.

CCC members even passed a motion to “direct the general counsel to prepare draft regulatory amendments and begin the promulgation process to effectuate approved changes to the commission’s microbusiness, delivery operator and delivery courier, and telehealth regulations”—all developments that have been in the works for months, and that were finally advanced this afternoon.

But the serenity came to an abrupt halt in hour three, in advance of a discussion and vote on “2024 Key Priorities and Operational Changes.” The contested proposal read:

Motion to direct Acting Executive Director (AED) Debbie Hilton-Creek to prioritize her Chief People Officer (CPO) hiring and employment duties until a new Executive Director (ED) is hired and onboarded and to delegate the following responsibilities to the Commission’s Chiefs to effectuate that purpose: the General Counsel (GC) to oversee all legal and regulatory matters; the Chief of Investigations and Enforcement (CIE) to oversee all matters related to investigations/compliance, enforcement, and licensing matters otherwise delegated to the Executive Director; the Chief Financial and Accounting Officer (CFAO) to oversee and lead in budget preparation, spend planning, procurements, funding, books of account and accounting records; the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer (CTIO) to oversee all information technology, cybersecurity, and internal control planning; the Chief Research Officer (CRO) to oversee all research activities mandated by statute, consistent with the overall goal to support the work of the Commission and be a leading cannabis research resource center.

    After Concepcion recited the motion language into the record, she and Commissioner Bruce Stebbins proceeded to express their gratitude for Hilton-Creek. The agency is currently focused on finding a full-time replacement for the executive director role, and the motion read out loud by the acting chair suggested that members had decided to relieve Hilton-Creek of most of her temporary duties. But it wasn’t a decision made by the entire group. In response to the news, Commissioner Kimberly Roy read a fiery prepared statement: 

    As you know, I am one of five appointed members of the CCC. All five of us are co-equal voting members of this body. As members of the commission, we are required to operate under certain rules, regulations, and statutes. I have questions and concerns about certain activities that may have occurred in the last 48 hours that not only myself as a commissioner but CCC staff and the public at large need answers to.

    It is further important to note these actions have created intense upheaval, discord, and instability within our staff, as I have heard from many of them—as well as a divisive distraction to our agency. I respectfully ask that I be recognized by the acting chair throughout the course of this discussion, and that no parliamentary procedure such as moving the question or the motion are deployed to stifle debate. The public will recognize this as censorship and the press is watching today. 

    I have questions for the acting chair [Ava Callender Concepcion] and for Commissioner [Bruce] Stebbins. Commissioner Stebbins, over the last 48 hours, have you been involved in a process to replace Acting Executive Director Debbie Hilton-Creek?

    At which point, Acting Chair Concepcion issued repeated points of order, saying, “You are entering statements and information that are not a part of today’s discussion or vote.”

    “Hold on,” Concepcion said, “hold on.”

    Roy then accused the acting chair of stifling her comments, asking, “Why am I not briefed on any of these things? … You have not provided me with any context.”

    Concepcion responded, “Commissioner Roy, I am more than happy to meet with you. … I will never decline a meeting with you, we can have a meeting and … that conversation.”

    To which Roy said, “I feel like the motion language you landed on today, there were offers made …”

    The commissioners went back and forth, with Concepcion especially weary about getting “into a conversation about personnel matters.”

    The motion in question was related to a CCC employment matter, and as a result there are concerns about violating open-meeting laws by inappropriately communicating between members, along with privacy concerns when discussing human resources in public.

    “Anything else is not for this space,” the acting chair said. “I feel conflicted that I have to say that to a commissioner.”

    In her turn, Hilton-Creek asked that the matter not be discussed any further during the open meeting.

    The motion was voted on and rejected, with Roy voting against it.

    Following the unexpected tumult, CCC members retreated into an executive session, which is standard when they are discussing litigation or personnel issues.

    “We operate within the open-meeting law, so we’re restricted in how many commissioners can be working on any topic,” Stebbins said during a media availability following Thursday’s meeting. “There is no shortage of work on everybody’s plate …  just the things our team does day in and day out … obviously litigation has popped up on our radar screen, so there’s a lot going on.”

    “What you heard is the complications of having open-meeting laws,” Concepcion said at the presser. “I could only talk to one other commissioner, and one felt they were not informed.”

    An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the language of the contested motion was kept from the public. That was incorrect; it was read into the record by Commissioner Concepcion prior to the moment when Commissioner Roy interjected with her prepared statement.