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June 18, 2024

Inspector general: Cannabis Control Commission is rudderless, legislators need to appoint receiver to govern agency

A large white building with two spires. Photo | Grant Welker Worcester's Union Station, home of the state's Cannabis Control Commission

After months of controversy surrounding the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, Massachusetts Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro is calling for the state legislature to appoint a receiver to manage the day-to-day operations of the agency.

In a letter to statehouse leaders on Tuesday, Shapiro said there is an urgent need for legislators to take immediate action to authorize the appointment of a receiver to manage the operations of the commission, saying corrective action needs to be taken to fix the course of the agency before the end of the legislative session. 

“The Cannabis Control Commission is a rudderless agency without a clear indication of who is responsible for running its day-to-day operations. Today I am asking legislative leaders to take immediate action to appoint a receiver and, in short order, address the underlying issues in the enabling statute so that the agency can function properly, maintain its budgeted revenue stream, and provide clarity and certainty for its stakeholders,” Shapiro said in a press release issued Friday alongside the letter. “For two years, the Commission has spent considerable time and money with a consultant drafting a governance charter to clarify roles and responsibilities. They are no closer to resolving these issues as I write this, therefore, immediate action must be taken to prevent the further waste and uncertainty.”

Shapiro’s letter specifically cites action taken by the agency’s commissioners at its most recent meeting on June 10, where they voted 3-1 to relieve the Acting Executive Director Debbie Hilton-Creek of her day-to-day responsibilities as cause for alarm.

“According to the CCC’s meeting packet, the commission planned to discuss and vote whether to delegate the responsibilities held by the acting executive director to oversee the CCC’s departments to each department’s supervisor,” the letter reads. “As of the date of this letter, the CCC has not posted its minutes online, and the posted agenda did not give notice that the CCC would take action to completely relieve the acting executive director of her responsibilities.”

The inspector general’s letter says the agency’s enabling statute lacks clear guidance, creating a situation where the Cannabis Control Commission has spent more than $160,000 on mediation services to clarify its governance structure. Shapiro recommends the receiver stay in place until the legislature can make amendments to legislation governing the commission. 

“This is no way to operate a state agency, let alone one that was responsible for bringing in approximately $322 million in tax and non-tax revenue in fiscal year 2023,” Shapiro said in the press release.

The last day of the formal legislative session is July 31.

"The Cannabis Control Commission [Commission] is in receipt of the letter from the Office of the Inspector General [OIG] and is currently reviewing it," a statement from the Cannabis Control Commission sent to WBJ on Tuesday read. "The agency will continue to cooperate with the OIG, as we have done throughout their investigation, and remain willing and ready to work with government partners to safely, effectively, and equitably regulate the Commonwealth’s $7 billion cannabis industry.

"Commissioners and staff have also worked to clarify governance questions in statute through the ongoing efforts towards developing a Commission charter," the statement continued. "As discussed by Commissioners at last week's public meeting, they intend to have a public conversation about the outcomes of that work very soon."

The agency has been broiled in controversy since July, when Shannon O'Brien, the chair of the commission said the agency was in crisis and then executive director Shawn Collins was unexpectedly leaving his post. Collins denied at the time he was planning on leaving, but later announced his resignation in November.

O’Brien was suspended from her role as chair in September, a move she challenged in court in October. While that situation has played out in court, the agency’s remaining four commissioners have tussled over who should be acting chair and have clashed with one another frequently since.

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