The official photo of newly named Massachusetts CCC Chair Shannon O’Brien.

Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission finally has a new chair with the current state Treasurer’s appointment of former Treasurer Shannon O’Brien to the head of the Bay State’s top cannabis authority.

The State Treasurer, currently Deborah Goldberg, has the sole authority to appoint the Cannabis Control Commission’s chair. The position requires experience in corporate management, finance, or securities, but there is no requirement for experience in cannabis.

O’Brien’s selection rankled a few activists and business owners because of her lack of experience in cannabis. On the other hand, both of O’Brien’s predecessors, Steven Hoffman and interim chair Sarah Kim lacked cannabis experience. Three of the original five commissioners, including Hoffman, lacked experience in the industry, explained David O’Brien, President of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association (no relation).

“We’re really excited about the future,” he said. “I’ve known her for about 20 years and I think she’ll be a great addition to the other four [commissioners].”

Shannon O’Brien is a veteran of state politics, having served in both houses of the state legislature before becoming state Treasurer in 1999. She served a single four-year term before mounting an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2002.

“She’s certainly worked in the private sector and worked in the public sector and knows how government works,” said David O’Brien. “I think she understands in some ways, this industry, maybe not specifically cannabis but I think she brings a wealth of experience.”

As a side note, her 2002 gubernatorial opponent was Mitt Romney, who would ascend from the governor’s office to become a presidential Republican nominee and before moving to Utah to become that state’s U.S. Senator.

“I look forward to working with the other commissioners, agency staff and stakeholders to ensure that this industry is well regulated while enhancing economic benefits for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said O’Brien in a statement. “The industry has grown rapidly since the voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, topping $3 billion in sales this past spring. While the law was intended to create new economic opportunities for diverse communities and those previously harmed by harsh drug laws, this promise has not been fully achieved, leaving many aspiring equity entrepreneurs with a very challenging pathway to achieve the success that larger corporate interests have enjoyed.”

O’Brien is taking the reigns as the CCC is starting a new round of rulemaking to adhere to the recently-passed cannabis reform omnibus bill, which Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on August 11.

As per the new law, the CCC will now have increased oversight of Host Community Agreements between cannabis operators and municipalities. The law creates a method for towns and cities to opt in to allowing social consumption licenses. It also calls for the creation of a social equity fund to create financing opportunities and it requires municipalities to prioritize social equity applicants while also redirecting excise tax funds to municipalities that host social equity operators.

“I am eager to get to work implementing some of the positive changes written into the recent reform law passed by the Legislature, including new access to capital for entrepreneurs, on site consumption, and enhanced oversight of Host Community Agreements,” said O’Brien.  

Steven Hoffman, who was the state’s first CCC chair, abruptly resigned from his position in April with three months left on his five-year term. Since then, Sarah Kim, the State Treasurer’s general counsel, has been serving as interim director.

“I am grateful to Sarah Kim for her outstanding stewardship of the Commission during this transitional time. Her steady hand ensured that their important work continued smoothly,” said Goldberg in a statement.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...