Massachusetts state treasurer suspends chair of state cannabis agency
Cannabis Control Commission Chairwoman Shannon O'Brien was suspended from her position Thursday by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who chose her for the job a year ago, as upheaval continues to collide with the CCC's hefty regulatory and policy responsibilities.
Goldberg's office did not say why the treasurer put the O'Brien on a paid suspension, a move that the Boston Globe reported earlier Friday afternoon, or whether the intention is to ultimately remove her from the CCC. A commission spokesperson would not confirm the Globe's report and said any questions about O'Brien's status with the CCC should be directed to the treasurer's office.
A letter that Assistant Treasurer and Chief of Human Resources Swee Lin Wong sent to O'Brien by email Thursday said she was being suspended with pay, effective immediately.
"During your suspension, you may not return to any of the Commission's offices or conduct any work on behalf of the Commission," the letter says. "You will need to return all Commission property, including laptop, cell phone, keys, ID badge, and any Commission documents or files that you may have in your possession, as soon as possible."
O'Brien, who did not immediately respond to an email from the News Service on Friday, did not participate in the CCC meeting Thursday. Commissioner Kimberly Roy said at the start of the meeting that she was "designated as chair today and I will have no further comment pertaining to that."
The state law that dictates how appointments to the CCC are made includes a section giving a treasurer (as well as a governor and attorney general) the ability to remove a commissioner they appointed if the commissioner "is guilty of malfeasance in office; substantially neglects the duties of a commissioner; is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office; commits gross misconduct; or is convicted of a felony."
The commissioner "shall be provided with a written statement of the reason for removal and an opportunity to be heard" before removal, the law says. It does not appear to speak directly to the suspension of a commissioner.
It was a bumpy year as chair of the CCC for O'Brien, a Democrat who served as state treasurer from 1999 until 2003.
The CCC wrestled with thorny and awkward issues surrounding O'Brien and her one-time ownership stake in a cultivation company that had an application before the CCC. She was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
And in July, O'Brien caught commissioners and staff off guard when she announced that Shawn Collins, the only executive director the CCC has had in its six year history, was planning to step down at the end of the year and that he wanted to take family leave before then. She said the situation put the CCC "in crisis" as it approached the finish line for its latest rewrite of cannabis industry regulations.
The chairwoman later apologized for any "angst" or "confusion" she caused with her announcement. Collins publicly pushed back against the assertion that the CCC was "in crisis" and denied that he had any set plan to leave at the end of the year.
O'Brien served six years in the Massachusetts House and two years in the Massachusetts Senate in the late 1980s and 1990s, and was the Democratic Party's nominee for governor in 2002 in the election against Mitt Romney.
After leaving politics, O'Brien worked at Boston TV station WB 56, and then served three years as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Boston. She was appointed by New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to serve as chair of the Pension Reform Commission from 2008 to 2010. She's also worked with health care, clean energy, financial services and telecommunications companies through her O'Brien Advisory Group.
Goldberg picked O'Brien for the CCC chair position in late August 2022. She followed interim Chair Sarah Kim and inaugural CCC Chair Steven Hoffman. The treasurer is responsible for appointing someone with a financial background to chair the marijuana industry regulatory body.