Mass Cannabis Regulators Respond To Letter About Agency “Dysfunction”

Cannabis Control Commission sends a detailed response to criticisms made by state lawmakers: “We respectfully reject that notion.”

These days, the interactions between top officials, lawmakers, and the state’s Cannabis Control Commission can seem like the East Coast versus West Coast rap wars of the 1990s, with shots fired from multiple angles.

All the slugs are metaphorical in this ongoing power struggle. And in that way some bodies have dropped, like that of CCC Chair Shannon O’Brien, who was suspended from the top spot by appointing Treasurer Deb Goldberg earlier this month.

Meanwhile, earlier today, the Office of State Auditor (OSA) Diana DiZoglio released a performance audit … to determine whether CCC ensured that recreational marijuana products sold [from 2019 to 2020] met the safety standards required by the following [the law],” while last week, the office of state Sen. Michael Moore released a letter outlining CCC “dysfunction.”  

Among their gripes, the authors of the legislator letter noted how “the CCC has engaged in semi-regular executive session mediation,” writing: “As the public is excluded from executive session, the specific items discussed in the mediation, its progress and status are all unclear.” While regarding the body’s process of impugning licensees, the letter recognized how “investigations have also come under criticism for operating in an overly aggressive, unproductive, and untimely manner,” asking, among other questions: “What are the CCC’s policies and procedures for conducting its investigations? How were these policies and procedures developed and what type of training does the CCC provide to its investigators?”

Responding one week later, CCC Chief Communications Officer Cedric Sinclair, writing on behalf of the agency’s Exec. Director Shawn Collins, hit back right out of the gate, basically accusing lawmakers of being too dumb or too cowardly to even dispatch their dis track to the correct location.

“Although we did not receive any letter from Sen. Michael Moore and your other four colleagues directly,” the Sinclair letter reads, “I wanted to take this opportunity to share information regarding the Cannabis Control Commission (Commission)’s operations and answer any questions that they raised.”

Sinclair then gets right down to the business of defending his agency: “On behalf of Commission staff, I would like to respond directly to the idea that the Commission has faced ‘an endless stream of scandals.’ … We respectfully reject that notion. Hopefully, your own experiences working with our agency, and the new authority with which you entrusted us through the passage of Chapter 180 of the Acts of 2022, suggests you do, too.”

Gliding past their scandals which have captured the attention of the public for months, the regulators then drop a series of numbers, some of which are quite impressive, however cherry-picked. Among them: “Massachusetts’ legal cannabis industry has generated more than $5 billion in sales—or roughly $1 billion in revenue for taxpayers”; “More than 570 licensed adult-use Marijuana Establishments have crossed the finish line to commence their operations”; etc.

That’s followed by some seriously minor concessions: “All of this is not to say the agency has not addressed certain challenges over the last six years.” Interspersed with reminders of how hard their work is: “For all the progress the Commission has made, we have never hesitated to acknowledge that significant work still lies ahead for our agency. Our regulation of a substance that remains federally illegal, and all the unprecedented territory that brings, guarantees that fact.”

The hardest darts come in the defense, though, with the CCC battling allegations point by point (sometimes convincingly; other times, not so much). Here is Sinclair using rhetorical judo in an attempt to turn complaints about workplace transparency against the issuers: “Ironically, the Legislature, in adapting the Commission to its current form in 2017, did so to insulate the agency, and its policies, from political influence or the risk of industry capture.”

And then there’s the whole why are you even bringing this up in the first place argument: “The discussion relative to governance raises additional concerns into the media coverage and legislative attention received by the Commission. For instance, much has been made about the budget for such a project, but the figures being published and discussed are, at best, inaccurate, and, at worst, made up entirely.”

“The letter sent by your colleagues seems to dwell on the Commission’s request for additional resources, and the percentage increase that it would represent,” Sinclair’s letter reads. “However, less attention has been given to the amount approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. That actual amount is less than was requested, and unfortunately fails to meet a level service of our operations.

“Yet, our agency continues to manage expectations to prioritize public health, safety, and equity.”

You can read the whole response letter here.