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November 16, 2023

After months of turmoil, Cannabis Commission leader officially announces resignation

Photo | Alexander MacDougall Cannabis Control Commission Executive Director Shawn Collins

Ava Callender Concepcion, acting chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, started Thursday’s agency meeting by announcing that Shawn Collins, the executive director of the commission and the person most responsible for its day-to-day operations, will resign effective Dec. 4, the same announcement alluded to July by then-Chair Shannon O’Brien.

“Serving as the commission’s inaugural executive director has easily been the most profound and rewarding professional opportunity of my life,” said Concepcion, reading from a prepared statement from Collins. “No matter what my future holds, I am confident that the ability to help create new government, while ushering in the migration of cannabis legalization in the commonwealth, can not be matched by other professional pursuits.”

Collins has been absent from the CCC since September, as he is out on parental leave. The commission named Debra Hilton-Creek, the agency’s chief people officer who joined the commission in August, to be the active executive director in Collin’s absence, passing over several more tenured executive staff members in the process.  

“I want to take a moment to thank Shawn for the incredible job he has done holding this agency from the beginning,” said Concepcion after reading Collin’s statement, noting he was the longest serving member of the agency’s staff. The three other active commissioners, Bruce Stebbins, Kimberly Roy, and Nurys Camargo, expressed thanks for Collins' work following the announcement. 

Collins and the agency has faced increasing scrutiny since July, when then-Chair O’Brien announced during a meeting that she felt the agency was in chaos after Collins had told her he planned to go on family leave until December before then resigning.

Collins later declined to provide details of his conversation with O’Brien, saying it was a private matter, but he later took family leave and is now resigning in December just as O’Brien had stated.

O’Brien would later be suspended from her role as Chair in September by her appointing authority, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office has claimed O’Brien has been accused of wrongful behavior by commission staff and at least one member of the agency’s board. 

Goldberg’s office has repeatedly declined to offer more details on the exact nature of the allegations. 

O’Brien has pushed back against Goldberg’s decision to remove her, claiming her office doesn’t have the legal authority to suspend her. In a September lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Civil Court, she made a number of claims against Collins, saying that she faced immediate hostility from him when attempting to schedule meetings and get up to speed on the agency’s activities. 

The lawsuit claimed a playbook exists within the agency to use baseless allegations as a way of forcing resignations from employees and commissioners, saying former Chair Steven Hoffman was victimized by these tactics. The suit seeks to force Goldberg to reinstate O’Brien. 

After the lawsuit was filed, Goldberg agreed to hold an administrative hearing with O’Brien to give her a chance to appeal her suspension and potential permanent removal from the role. 

The hearing was originally scheduled for November, but has since been pushed to December. The exact format of the hearing and whether or not it will be open to the public has not been announced.

Collins has been the only executive director of the agency since it was created in 2017 to help regulate the newly legalized cannabis industry. He previously served as assistant treasurer and director of policy and legislative affairs for Goldberg, where he helped her office prepare for the rollout of legalization. 

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