Lawsuit, Scandals, And Audit Aside, Massachusetts Regulators Approve Major Changes

Another week of nonstop action around the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
Massachusetts Cannabis Regulators Approve Major Changes
Massachusetts Cannabis Regulators Approve Major Changes /

Guest Contributor: Chris Faraone, editor and co-founder of Talking Joints Memo.

At this point, with mini scandals and tangential drama breaking almost daily around the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, it’s hard to separate the work done by the agency from the seemingly perpetual public disclosures and juicy developments.

In the past week alone, the Office of the State Auditor released a damning report about past CCC operations, while the CCC executive director returned fire in a current feud that regulators have brewing with state lawmakers who are demanding more oversight of the body

And the hits just keep on coming. GBH confirmed today that suspended CCC Chair Shannon O’Brien is suing state Treasurer Deb Goldberg for removing her from office “without notice, without articulated reason, and without opportunity to be heard.” Meanwhile, the Boston Globe and others are reporting new details about what led to that suspension.

“Several serious allegations were made by a Commissioner and CCC staff about the Chair’s behavior and the CCC initiated an investigation, hiring an outside law firm,” according to a statement released by Goldberg’s office. It continued, “The law firm undertook an investigation and has returned with a report. According to the CCC’s employee handbook, suspension with pay is the only allowable remedy at this point, as the findings are being reviewed and action is considered.”

All of which has really cast a major shadow on the actual work done by commissioners this month. Here’s the CCC’s summary of the agency’s progress on critical regulatory rewrites:

Following five days of public meetings, the Cannabis Control Commission (Commission) on Friday, September 22, 2023 voted 3-1 to approve final changes to Massachusetts’ adult and medical use of marijuana regulations, including policies that will implement the agency’s oversight of host community agreements (HCAs), new municipal equity requirements, and suitability reform, in accordance with Chapter 180 of the Acts of 2022, An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry.

To get to this point, regulatory working groups, led by Commissioners and staff, participated in months of policy discussion and stakeholder engagement, then initially proposed draft regulations that were first approved by Commissioners in a 4-0 vote at their July 28 public meeting. The Commission then filed the draft with the Secretary of the Commonwealth in August, gathered written testimony, and held a public hearing for stakeholders to weigh in on the policy proposals on September 8, prior to the September 22 vote on final regulations.

“Commissioners and staff have worked tirelessly for months to revise our regulations—driving a transparent process and listening to feedback from diverse constituents, convening numerous public meetings, and making thoughtful changes,” Acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion said in a statement. “I am grateful to our partners in the Legislature and in the Executive Branch for entrusting us with the authority to move the agency and industry forward and am proud of the final product that we will be filing with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.”

Even with all of the rigmarole surrounding regulators at the moment, some advocates and watchdogs went out of their way to praise the body this past week. The group Equitable Opportunities Now, which “educates and empowers people of color to become active participants in the Massachusetts legal cannabis market,” said the new “HCA and municipal equity rules will create new opportunities for communities harmed by the war on drugs.”

“These regulations show that meaningful policy change can happen with an inclusive and transparent process, one that actively seeks out and centers the voices of those living with our policies,” EON Co-Founder Shanel Lindsay said in a statement. “These regulations are a huge step toward equity and opportunity for those our marijuana policies have been harming for decades. We thank Acting Chair Concepcion for her effective leadership and all of the Commissioners for their thoughtful deliberations throughout this process.”

“Commissioners demonstrated a true openness to public feedback and their final results reflect that they listened to those most impacted by these policies and centered their concerns,” EON Policy Co-Chair Kevin Gilnack added. “On behalf of EON and our grassroots supporters throughout the Commonwealth, I want to thank each Commissioner and the hardworking Commission staff for all of their efforts to implement this law and create a more equitable industry.”

This article was originally published in Talking Joints Memo, and syndicated on The Bluntness with permission.

About The Author: Chris Faraone is the editor and co-founder of Talking Joints Memo, a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and a longtime reporter for outlets including the Boston Phoenix and DigBoston. He started his career as a music journalist and has been honored to collaborate with the likes of cannabis icons like Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang on book projects. He also plays pickleball and would love more people to play with who also smoke weed.