In an unexpected statement released just hours ago, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announced today that long-serving Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan would be stepping down from her position at the end of the month--nearly 5 months before her four year term had been scheduled to end.
“I want to express my sincere thanks to Governor Baker for the opportunity to serve as the public health appointee to the Commission,” said Commissioner Flanagan in an agency Press Release. “My motivation for accepting his appointment, and my primary goal throughout my term, has been to ensure the public health of Massachusetts residents remained a priority as the Commonwealth regulated legal cannabis. I believe my contributions have kept that focus front and center as the Commission has drafted and updated its regulations over the past three and a half years.”
Flanagan was appointed to the Commission by Governor Charlie Baker in September of 2017 to serve on the Commission's Public Health seat and had become a mainstay in the Commission's monthly meetings over the past 3 plus years.
Prior to joining the Commission, Flanagan was a Legislative Aide and Chief of Staff before becoming an elected Representative. She finished her Career on Beacon Hill having served for 11 years as a Democratic State Senator representing Ashby, Bolton, Precincts 1 &2 of Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Townsend and Westminster.
The Commissioner's nearly 25 year record of public service was highlighted by the State's Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Karen Polito, alongside the Agency's statement announcing Flanagan's departure.
“Commissioner Flanagan has been a strong advocate for public health throughout her long career of service for the people of Massachusetts and brought this expertise to her role on the Cannabis Control Commission,” said Governor Baker. “Lt. Governor Polito and I thank Jennifer for her willingness to serve on the Commission, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors. We are in the process of reviewing candidates to serve in this seat and expect to make an announcement soon.”
Flanagan's time on the Commission came to be known as something of an enigma, having taken positions as wide ranging as supporting the recent expansion of the State's patient per pro-bono caregiver ratio to 5:1 (instead of the prior 1:1 limit) alongside an expanded default plant count for medical patient homegrow (12 mature plants AND 12 immature plants PLUS unlimited clones simply by having a medical card) while, at the same time, standing as the lone vote against the much-heralded expansion of equity delivery in November of 2020.
It was Commissioner Flanagan, in fact, who had attempted, before those updated delivery regulations passed into law by a vote of 3-1, to delay the roll out of adult use delivery until 2023 at a Commission meeting in October of 2020.
That motion was defeated by the 3 other Commissioners serving at the time (Commissioners McBride, Title and Hoffman), but it nonetheless left a sour aftertaste for many in the State's highly active grassroots community.
It was also not the first time that Commissioner Flanagan had come under public criticism, in particular following a somewhat contentious summer 2020 Commission hearing during which she proposed removing social equity goals from the Agency Executive Director's yearly goals, leading to a vocal objection from then-Commissioner Shaleen Title.
Those social equity goals remain in the Executive Director's yearly progress report to this day, but the incident opened a rift that, to many observers of the Commission's public meetings, had been long simmering.
True to her enigmatic reputation, perhaps the single strongest trait for a regulator in a highly complex industry, it was only a few months after that meeting that Commissioner Flanagan took a public stand on the importance of ensuring the metrics used to measure the impact of the drug war on local communities were being overseen in a way that did not allow the absence of police department data (often times because that data was being withheld from public view) to prevent that impact from being measured.
Lorna Branagan McCafferty, a local medical cannabis patient who participated in the summer 2020 public hearing process during which Commissioner Flanagan supported the expanded caregiver ratio and medical patient homegrow rules, said the Commissioner's reputation is one that is difficult to process;
"She wanted to help patients, I can say that because I saw it first hand" said McCafferty. "But, at the same time, she took some positions that I think many found perplexing and oft-putting".
For McCafferty, the importance of Flanagan's support for those expanded caregiver ratio and medical patient homegrow rules cannot be overlooked;
"There are just so many vulnerable patients who need access to the at-cost cannabis provided in Massachusetts by caregivers. When Commissioner Flanagan voted to support expanding that caregiver ratio, to let even more patients have access at-cost only even though the big corporate cannabis companies were fighting hard against the proposal, she changed the day to day life of patients in ways she may not have even realized. To combine her support of that system with a vote in favor of the new homegrow rules for medical patients, who can now grow 12 mature and 12 immature plants just by having a medical card, showed this was a public official who was willing to put the interests of the most vulnerable ahead of companies worth billions of dollars."
The Commission's release did not mention any anticipated plans for the Commissioner following the end of her term on the 30th of this month, but a few folks I spoke to in recent months will no doubt be surprised by this news -- they had been certain she would seek another term.
With Flanagan's departure, Chairman Steven Hoffman is the only remaining member of the Agency's original 5 Commissioners. Commissioners Shaleen Title, Britte McBride, Kay Doyle and, now, Jennifer Flanagan will all have left the agency as of May 1st.
Does this spell more turnover at the agency when the Chairman's term ends in just over 16 months? Time will tell.