Sources; Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg Extended a July 2022 Deadline for the Then-Open Position of CCC Chair to “Allow More Women of Color to Apply", Despite the Fact that Goldberg had Personally Asked Eventual Choice Shannon O’Brien to Apply.
Startling allegations of a preordained appointment process rife with potential conflict of interests rock the Massachusetts cannabis world.
New Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) Chair Shannon O'Brien, appointed in August of 2022 by State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, has come under fire following an appointment process decried by members of the public as opaque and preordained.
Over the past three weeks beating drums of controversy surrounding the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) – specifically an opaque appointment process, run by State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, leading to the selection of new Chairperson Shannon O’Brien – have crescendoed into a sustained roar.
Reports that O’Brien maintains an active license before the agency she now heads have been splashed across front pages throughout the Commonwealth, with one such article even confirming The Treasurer had personally asked O’Brien to apply for the position (at which point in time that solicitation occurred – a key facet of this story for reasons that will quickly become clear – is as of yet unknown).
Now, new information – confirmed via a source with knowledge of internal Treasury deliberations who did not want to go on record – indicates that Goldberg’s office extended an initial July 2022 deadline for applicants seeking the position of Chair to “allow more women of color to apply.”
While on the surface that kind of inclusive hiring process should be rightfully celebrated, questions began to arise upon confirmation that Chair O’Brien had been personally approached by the Treasurer to apply for the position, potentially before the application window even opened.
Interestingly, O’Brien and Goldberg have other professional ties; O’Brien previously worked in state government as State Treasurer and, more recently, served as Chair of Goldberg’s semi-official “Baby Bonds Task Force.”
In such circumstances, then, any delay for the purposes of allowing more female candidates of color to apply would have been purely for show.
As those candidates included a slate of highly qualified applicants –Commissioner Nurys Camargo, Cannabis Advisory Board Member Kim Napoli, MCAD President Aaron Goines just to name a few – the implications of a potentially manipulated or preordained hiring process are staggering.
Public statements do little to quell the fire
O’Brien, for her part, denied that she still remains listed on an active license in a Friday statement to The Cannabis Business Times, suggesting that an “attestation” filed in December of 2021 removed any ownership or control interest that O’Brien had in prospective cannabis operator “Greenfield Greenery”.
However, that explanation only further drew scrutiny from industry watchers who quickly pointed out that changes of ownership must be submitted to the CCC and may only take place following a formal approval process. While Greenfield Greenery submitted a change of ownership form in May of 2022, it has yet to have been formally acted upon by the agency.
As a result, while Goldberg may claim that the attestation signed in December 2021 removed her “ownership and control interest” in Greenfield Greenery, the reality is that a person’s name remains on a license until the CCC approves a formal change of ownership.
As CCC press staff confirmed publicly that a change of ownership request for the Greenfield dispensary is still pending, the new statement from O’Brien on Friday about the 2021 attestation does not close the matter. In fact, given the open ownership change application, it raises more questions than it answers.
Goldberg, who has sole appointment power to select the Chair of the Commission, noticeably avoided even so much as mentioning O’Brien’s prior cannabis industry experience in the press release announcing the appointment (although O’Brien would later go on to confirm that she had made Goldberg’s staff aware of those industry ties during the application process).
Furthermore, while the announcement of O’Brien’s appointment did mention both equity and economic empowerment, it does not appear that the Chair has ever worked with an equity or economic empowerment business during her time as a cannabis consultant.
The most recent application document available on the CCC's website for Greenfield Greenery has O'Brien listed as a 50% owner, having contributed $50,000 to the company upon its founding [PDF warning].
This 5 image collection contains highlights from the Greenfield Greenery application PDF provided above. The documents indicate O'Brien held a 50% stake in Greenfield Greenery and there are no further documents on the Commission's website indicating O'Brien's name had been removed from the application. If a change of ownership is approved for Greenfield Greenery, it must be posted publicly on the agencies' website by law.
A shock resignation, a broken process and too many unanswered questions
The spark which was initially thought to have set off the chain of events leading to O’Brien’s appointment was the shock April 2022 resignation of former CCC Chairperson Steve Hoffman -- a full six months before his term was scheduled to end. When Hoffman’s explanation to Dan Adams of the Boston Globe as to the reasons behind his departure failed to provide much of anything of substance, whispered questions began to make the rounds.
The artificial veneer of stability under interim Chairperson Sarah Kim between April of this year and a late August decision to appoint O'Brien as a full-time replacement only further betrayed an all-but-routine series of events, as described in detail via this excellent timeline put together by Eric Casey at Worcester Magazine;
Why did O’Brien begin the process of resigning from Greenfield Greenery in December of 2021?
Why did O’Brien wait until May of 2022 to submit a change of ownership for Greenfield Greenery?
Why was O’Brien formally appointed, despite the appointment of an interim-Chair, before her change of ownership was approved by the CCC?
Why did the Treasurer's office extend the initial July 2022 deadline for the position of CCC Chair to seek more candidates of color if Treasurer Goldberg herself had already approached Shannon O’Brien to apply for the position?
When was Shannon O’Brien’s application to be CCC Chair formally submitted?
While any appointment process in Massachusetts is bound to be opaque – this is a state wherein the legislature exempts itself from the open meeting law after all – these are unprecedented questions that call into question the sacred foundations of our shared public sphere.
If the appointment process for the position of CCC Chair was anything but equitable and fair, demands rightfully imposed on the regulated cannabis industry in the Commonwealth, it must be reopened and, with that, a new Chair selected.
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By: Grant Smith Ellis
Sat. 1 October 2022 1:00PM ET
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