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Mass. Cannabis Commission ‘in crisis,’ chair says, in announcing executive director’s exit

Shawn Collins has served as executive director of the state's Cannabis Commission since 2017. Topic: 20potyear Reporter:Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

The chair of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission took commissioners by surprise Friday when she announced in the middle of a regulatory discussion that Executive Director Shawn Collins is planning to leave the agency he has run since its inception and described the CCC as being “in crisis.”

Chair Shannon O’Brien said she wants to meet next week or the week after with her fellow commissioners to discuss Collins’ departure — which has not been acknowledged by Collins, who was not made available to the News Service on Friday afternoon — and how the CCC should proceed as it gets into the meat of its latest round of marijuana industry regulation revisions.


O’Brien, the former state treasurer who came under scrutiny for her ties to a cannabis company soon after Treasurer Deborah Goldberg tapped her to chair the CCC last September, announced during Friday’s virtual meeting that Collins informed her in May that he planned to announce that he would leave the CCC at the end of this year and that he wanted to take 10 weeks of family leave beginning in September. O’Brien said she asked Collins not to make that announcement in May.

“It was a little bit out of the blue. I wasn’t sure, I said, ‘I would ask that you wait.’ We’re in the process of hiring a new chief people officer, we’re hiring a new general counsel, we are depleted in terms of some of our top management and staff to help us not only get through regulatory writing but to exercise the important responsibilities that we have,” she said Friday.

O’Brien said she spoke with Collins about his departure again Thursday and that he “further indicated to me that he planned on taking his family leave beginning on Monday.” That prompted the chair to consult labor attorneys and O’Brien said the expectation is that employees give their employer 30 days notice before starting family leave in most situations.


“We are in crisis right now as a commission. We need to make sure that we know how to manage through this regulatory process,” O’Brien said.

Other commissioners appeared to be caught off-guard.

Commissioner Nurys Camargo said “everyone’s in shock” that O’Brien brought the topic up for discussion in public the way she did, and Commissioner Bruce Stebbins said he was “still trying to figure out where that fit into our consideration of the agenda and the work we have to get done.”

After Friday’s meeting, Commissioner Ava Callender Concepcion said she did not agree with O’Brien’s assessment that the CCC is “in crisis.”

“I think it’s a bit inflammatory, but you would have to speak to the chair in order to understand why, where that was coming from,” she said.

The CCC is in the midst of implementing the state’s new cannabis equity law, which aims to deal with some of the hiccups in the maturing industry, and has been busy working on revisions to the detailed rules for the industry in Massachusetts.

Collins was unanimously chosen in the fall of 2017 to lead the CCC as its inaugural executive director. Prior to that, he was an assistant treasurer who served as Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s point person on pot during the debate over legalization and until oversight of marijuana was removed from the treasurer’s direct auspices by the Legislature in a rewrite of the 2016 ballot law.