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Transparency needed in Cannabis Control Commission investigations

The agency is increasingly facing questions about its own practices and professionalism.

Shawn Collins (left), executive director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, addressed a meeting of the commission on Feb. 6, 2020, in Worcester.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Anyone who has ever started a new job understands the need to prove your skills and competence to perform the role.

As a relatively new state agency, less than six years old, the Cannabis Control Commission is facing those same pressures — and struggling. While the commission, a 110-person agency with a $19.2 million budget, successfully stood up a legal recreational marijuana industry, the agency is increasingly facing questions about its own practices and professionalism and its ability to execute one of its most important roles — keeping the state’s approximately 30,000 cannabis workers safe. To restore public trust, the commission needs to thoroughly and honestly investigate its own activities and be transparent about the conclusions and consequences.


The most recent issue relates to an investigation into cannabis testing facility MCR Labs. On March 21, eight Cannabis Control Commission investigators made an unannounced visit to MCR Labs in Framingham, a typical practice when the commission is investigating a potential violation of state rules. A statement from a commission spokesperson said the commission “currently has several open enforcement matters regarding MCR Labs.”

MCR Labs CEO Michael Kahn is accusing inspectors of inappropriate conduct. “Throughout the course of the inspection, our employees were subjected to harassment and intimidation,” Kahn wrote in a letter to commissioners. According to Kahn, inspectors refused to sign the lab’s visitor log and handled samples without gloves, violations of lab safety protocols. They verbally harassed employees. One investigator physically touched an employee. According to Kahn’s letter, a manager reported “It was very disorganized and chaotic as I had about 5 different people asking for things at once, screaming in my ear.”

The commission spokesperson said the commission “categorically disputes the characterization of our investigators, both in following agency protocols and their professionalism” and pledged an investigation.

Commission executive director Shawn Collins told the Globe, “I have a lot of confidence in our team. At the same time, they’ve raised some serious allegations. I’m going to take their concerns seriously and investigate it as a [human resources] matter.”


The good news is any marijuana facility has security cameras. It is incumbent on the commission to review footage, determine if investigators acted improperly, and, if so, take disciplinary action. Investigation results should be made public so other businesses know that commission staff will be held to a professional standard.

A second issue relates to a bizarre story reported by GBH about a data breach in response to a public records request about a Russian oligarch’s ties to a multistate cannabis company that operates Massachusetts dispensaries. Blogger Grant Smith Ellis requested commission records about Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who the website Forensic News reported was secretly funding marijuana company Curaleaf. The Cannabis Control Commission accidentally sent Smith Ellis a spreadsheet listing the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone registered to work in the Massachusetts marijuana industry, including the reasons former employees were no longer employed.

Smith Ellis published information he obtained about Curaleaf but did not publish the spreadsheet. Commission lawyers then demanded that Smith Ellis and his colleague, blogger Eric Casey, delete the spreadsheet, which they say they did. Smith Ellis says he removed the story voluntarily because commission lawyers mentioned an unspecified safety threat.

Collins confirmed that investigations are ongoing into Curaleaf funding and into the improper distribution of workers’ information. “It should not have happened,” Collins said.


Once those investigations are complete, the results should be made public.

Finally, it has been more than a year since a woman died of an asthma attack while working at Trulieve’s Holyoke cannabis cultivation facility. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration initially fined Trulieve $35,200 but reduced the fine to $14,500 for violating “hazard communication” standards in February after Trulieve appealed. The Cannabis Control Commission pledged its own investigation. Now that OSHA finished its work, the commission should expeditiously complete its own review and determine whether additional sanctions are warranted.

Standing up a new agency and industry from scratch is challenging, particularly with the complications caused by federal prohibition. The commission is currently undergoing internal mediation to determine a “durable and effective governance structure.” For the sake of the industry and cannabis consumers, let’s hope the structure that emerges is one that is transparent, accountable, and responsive.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the size of the Cannabis Control Commission budget. It is $19.2 million for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this editorial said that the Cannabis Control Commission had forced bloggers Eric Casey and Grant Smith Ellis to delete a published story about an investigation into the company Curaleaf and alleged investment by Russian oligarchs. The two removed the article and associated social media posts voluntarily after they were told records related to their reporting may put individuals at safety risk.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.