“We Have No Chair.” Leaderless Cannabis Regulators Return To Work

Following some bickering over who is in charge, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission members get back to business

A lot of eyes were focused on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Monday morning. Following the suspension of the body’s chair, Shannon O’Brien, by the appointing Massachusetts treasurer last week, and a scathing critique of the agency that state lawmakers released today, people predicted fireworks.

But kind of like a rubbernecker expecting to see more bloodshed at a restaurant where a mob boss was executed, those ogling today’s proceedings got more sustenance than drama and suspense. 

The meeting did however start with some light bickering, unsurprisingly regarding who should take the helm. With O’Brien gone (at least for now), commissioners seemed unclear about the chain of leadership.

“The most important thing this body can do today is to get these regulations finalized.” Taking charge at the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner Kimberly Roy tried to set the tone. She continued, “A lot of business openers, stakeholders, and municipalities are looking to see what we do today. You’re going to see how the sausage is made, because we’re going to live-edit.”

Commissioner Nurys Camargo agreed: “We’re at a critical point where the focus is regulatory. … There is a lot at stake right now.”

But before they could proceed with editing draft regulations around Host Community Agreements and other issues, they had to get on the same page about their temporary hierarchy.

“I know we’re in a tough situation,” Camargo said. “As a body, we have the power and authority to pick an acting chair.”

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins put forward a motion for Roy to assume the chair, noting that, as the body’s secretary, she has filled in for O’Brien on several past occasions. But Camargo and Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion rejected the motion, leaving the body split without a fifth member.

Camargo then put another motion on the table—to “designate Commissioner Concepcion as acting chair until the return of the chairperson”—which Roy and Stebbins asked her to amend in a way that would simply appoint Concepcion as chair through the ongoing regulatory review meetings.

“There is so much at stake for this commission,” Camargo said, “but for us to move forward and govern ourselves, I am not going to amend my motion.”

“I understand what we’re doing here,” Concepcion said. “I understand the functions and processes that need to take place from this point forward, and I think I am uniquely positioned [to be acting chair] because of that.”

After Camargo’s motion failed, commissioners unanimously approved a motion by Stebbins to appoint Concepcion as the acting chair for the currently scheduled regulatory meetings. Concepcion seconded: “We have work to do,” she said. “We cannot get hung up on this.”

The extensive rewrite was set in motion last year, when state lawmakers passed An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry (Chapter 180) requiring the CCC to draft new regulations that, among other changes, improve municipal transparency and accountability. The proposed tweaks, which were first presented at a meeting of the commission on July 14 then advanced into a public comment period two weeks later, include a mandate for the CCC to review every Host Community Agreement (HCA) between municipalities and operators in their borders, and for host communities to only assess so-called “impact fees” based on actual costs incurred as a result of the operation.

At a hearing earlier this month, stakeholders raised concerns that some rewrites as initially proposed could allow municipalities to manipulate state law to close unwanted cannabis businesses by simply refusing to comply with the law. Final versions of the new regulations need to be filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth no later than Oct. 13, with the aim of promulgation by Nov. 9, in compliance with Chapter 180.

“Sometimes we go at it and we bicker, and it’s all good at the end of the day,” Camargo said. “But now it’s time to get down to business.”

The CCC will meet in public sessions to continue finalizing rewrites on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. You can read the draft legislation in its latest form here.