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Mass. marijuana commissioner to step down in May

Kay Doyle helped create state’s medical marijuana program

Cannabis Control Commissioner Kay Doyle spoke during a meeting in the Massachusetts State House in March 2019.
Cannabis Control Commissioner Kay Doyle spoke during a meeting in the Massachusetts State House in March 2019.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts marijuana regulator Kay Doyle is stepping down from the Cannabis Control Commission for a private sector job, the agency announced Monday.

Doyle, an attorney, was jointly appointed as one of the independent agency’s five commissioners in 2017 by Governor Charlie Baker, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Attorney General Maura Healey. Her term had been due to end in September; now, her last day will be May 8, after the commission’s next scheduled public meeting. A replacement has yet to be named.

“There’s always a pang when you leave something you’ve worked really hard on,” Doyle, who declined to immediately name her new employer, said in an interview. “But I’m very confident in leaving everything that is pending in the hands [of the other commissioners and agency staff], and I think it’s a good and healthy thing for the commission to get some new blood.”

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Doyle had previously served at the state Department of Public Health, where she was the top attorney on the team overseeing the Massachusetts medical marijuana program.

Among advocates, industry leaders, and her colleagues, Doyle developed a reputation as a cautious but fair-minded and detail-oriented pragmatist who was accessible to all and knew the state’s marijuana rules by heart. And while she publicly emphasized safety and regulatory compliance over the rapid expansion of the recreational pot sector, supporters saw Doyle as a quiet champion for medical marijuana patients and mom-and-pop license applicants trying to make it in the cannabis industry.

“Kay is an extraordinarily competent public servant who was most passionate on a smaller, one-on-one basis,” said Jay Youmans, a marijuana industry lobbyist who previously worked with Doyle at DPH. “Every conversation we ever had was about, how do we make the agency successful and help applicants of all shapes, sizes, and colors succeed while remembering public safety and access for medical marijuana patients? She really approached that balancing act with intelligence and kindness and an open ear."

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Youmans noted that Doyle helped draft rules limiting the expansion of large, multi-state marijuana operators trying to dominate the Massachusetts cannabis market. She also cast a decisive vote in favor of a pilot program that, if approved by the Legislature, would allow disenfranchised applicants to open so-called “social consumption” venues, or pot bars. And Doyle was well-known for writing the commission’s environmental rules for marijuana growers.

Doyle’s resignation comes amid unprecedented turmoil in the industry she helped stand up: Baker last month ordered recreational pot businesses to close amid the coronavirus pandemic, and many entrepreneurs in the space say they are on the brink of failure.

Some of those companies received their licenses thanks in part to an “expedition” policy championed by Doyle and implemented last year, which granted faster application review to certain smaller mom-and-pop operators, including those owned by women, veterans, and minorities. In recent weeks, she backed commission efforts to provide partial relief by allowing recreational companies to sell their inventories to medical operators, which remain open as “essential” businesses.

Doyle declined to criticize Baker’s decision. However, echoing others who have argued that many so-called “recreational” cannabis consumers actually use the drug for medical or wellness reasons, she noted, “sometimes, patients don’t register as patients.”


Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86. Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.