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“Placing CCC In Receivership Carries Risks, But Action Is Imperative”

Letter from Institute of Cannabis Science to lawmakers notes: “Our findings … show that fraudulent and harmful products reach consumers in Massachusetts.”

At a hearing of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy held on Beacon Hill on Tuesday, Massachusetts Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro testified in support of putting the Cannabis Control Commission in receivership. Though the IG was the only person invited to speak, many stakeholders and watchdogs also addressed topics that surfaced during the State House proceedings, with some submitting written testimony. Below is a letter sent to the chairs of the committee ahead of the hearing by Dr. Jeff Rawson of the Institute of Cannabis Science in Cambridge. –TJM Editors

Re: Responsibility of the Legislature to appoint a receiver for the Cannabis Control Commission 

Dear Senator Gomez and Representative Donahue,

This letter shares my perspective as the leader of the Institute of Cannabis Science, a group that protects consumers of cannabis. Our principal focus is the safety and health of all people who touch cannabis.

The letter from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on June 18, 2024 regarding the operations of the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) drew my attention because it resonated with my experience. I urge you to consider it seriously. Inspector General Shapiro wrote: 

For the past two years, CCC’s staff, including its commissioners, have spent considerable time and money seeking to clarify roles and responsibilities. As of the date of this letter, it does not appear the CCC, on its own, is any closer to resolving these issues. At this point, I respectfully submit that there is an urgent need for the legislative leadership to take immediate action to statutorily authorize the appointment of, and appoint, a receiver with clearly delineated authority to manage the day-to-day operations of the CCC…

A letter of response from Acting Chair Concepción dated June 20, 2024, prioritized her objection, “that the OIG was overstepping its statutory authority, which is limited to waste, fraud, and abuse of public funds.” The response of the Acting Chair then alleged that a receivership would afford the public with less transparency: “The OIG also calls for a structural change that would result in the Commission conducting its work in secret, outside the public view of an open meeting.” The Acting Chair further provided a letter of objection to the investigation of the OIG from Kristina Gasson, General Counsel of the CCC, with statements that included, “The Commission specifically objects to requests relating to personnel or human resources (“HR”) complaints made against Commission staff, including Commissioners and certain members of Commission…”

Though I am no lawyer, I know that the statutory authority of the OIG is less narrow than the Acting Chair alleges. The commission has expended hundreds of thousands of dollars to mediate disputes of authority between commissioners and staff, and the OIG should evaluate the necessity and efficacy of that expenditure. To my eyes, these conflicts within the CCC do appear to engender wasteful public expenditures.

The Acting Chair’s allegations of the CCC’s efficacy are overstatement. The people of Massachusetts have witnessed conflicts of interest for key investigative staff within CCC, whistleblower complaints that led to no actions, plodding investigations that yielded no public reports, and a fine of Trulieve imposed more than two years after their practices killed an employee and nearly one year after the company closed all operations in our state. None of these investigations yielded detailed reports to the public, and the CCC could hardly become less transparent than it is currently. Any viewer of the public meetings of Commissioners must be as perplexed regarding the CCC’s daily operations as are we. 

The Acting Chair alleges that the OIG supersedes its authority by requesting HR documents. The wasteful strife over authority in the CCC has spilled into allegations of misconduct in the workplace, so the OIG investigation was obligated to request records relating to HR complaints.

During my own interactions with the CCC, I witnessed several symptoms of their challenged workplace culture. I have communicated some concerns previously in a letter to the Treasurer of Massachusetts dated Oct 1, 2023; here, I provide a brief summary of cogent experiences:

  • In a videoconference meeting that included a Director-level employee within the CCC, I noticed the extreme subservience of subordinates. When our discussion revealed new information, this Director erupted into an angry tirade.

  • I had a phone call with a member of CCC staff charged with requests for information. I was offered preferential treatment because of my employment at Harvard.

  • I had a videoconference with another Director within the CCC, who indicated that they were extremely troubled by their work environment but afraid to admit so.

  • I encountered resistance and nonsensical responses to my requests for testing data under Freedom of Information laws.

  • In years of conversations with the owners of numerous testing labs for cannabis in Massachusetts, I have most frequently heard complaints that the CCC issues unclear technical guidance and is unresponsive to requests for clarification. 

Despite the assertions of the Acting Chair that the CCC is succeeding, signs of trouble have been plain to see. Allegations that wrongdoing goes insufficiently investigated, that conflicts of interest taint key staff, and that complaints by whistleblowers don’t yield disciplinary actions have dogged the CCC.

The Institute of Cannabis Science has recently published an article entitled “Market Audits Combat Cannabis Misinformation” in the Journal of Testing and Evaluation, published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Our article highlights instances of mold, heavy metals, and inflated labeling of THC content in products we purchased from dispensaries in Massachusetts. Our findings cut to the core of claims by Acting Chair Concepción of success at the CCC, because they show that fraudulent and harmful products reach consumers in Massachusetts.

Our article also demonstrates a two-pronged approach to Assure the Quality of cannabis, which combines surveys of products from shelves and analyses of aggregated data from compliance tests. We first advocated for this framework of Quality Assurance in a meeting of the Cannabis Advisory Board Subcommittee on Research in December of 2022. Though Commissioners Roy, O’Brien, and Stebbins all met with me in subsequent months to discuss this approach to Quality Assurance, Commissioners Concepción and Camargo have never responded to my communications.

In one regard, Acting Chair Concepción is correct: Inspector General Shapiro has taken unprecedented action by calling for the Legislature to implement a receivership. Placing the CCC in receivership carries risks, but action is imperative. I believe that, in their limited examination of the CCC, the OIG must have observed what I observed: a failing culture that is wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money, while offering flimsy protections to the people of our state against powerful corporate interests.

I share the alarm of the IG, so I urge you to take extraordinary action. The CCC has failed its most crucial mission: to protect people. For the health of our cannabis consumers and workers, you must take action. Harm will continue until you do.

Thank you, 

Jeff Rawson, Ph. D. 

President, Institute of Cannabis Science