TWO MONTHS after pushing back on a claim he would be leaving by the end of the year, Shawn Collins is resigning as executive director of the Cannabis Control Commission, the latest move to rock the troubled state agency, whose chair was suspended in September.
The commission’s acting chair, Ava Callender Concepcion, announced on Thursday that Collins was leaving effective December 4. She read a statement from Collins, who gave no reason for his departure.
The news comes as a lawmaker who has been critical of the agency is due to speak with Auditor Diana DiZoglio about his request for an audit of the cannabis commission. Sen. Michael Moore, a Democrat from Millbury, sent a letter on November 6 to DiZoglio and the state comptroller voicing concerns about the commission’s ability to carry out its duties as a regulator.
In July, the cannabis commission chair, Shannon O’Brien, took observers by surprise when she announced in the midst of a regulatory discussion among commissioners that Collins, who has helmed the cannabis agency since it was launched in 2017, would be leaving by the end of the year. In the same meeting, O’Brien declared that the commission was “in crisis.”
Collins subsequently denied that he had any “definitive” plan to leave.
Less than two months after O’Brien said Collins was leaving, she was suspended as commission chair on September 14 by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg. At the time, Goldberg offered no explanation for the move.
Two weeks later, O’Brien filed a lawsuit challenging her suspension. On the same day, Goldberg released a statement saying the suspension followed “several serious allegations” about O’Brien’s behavior made by commission staff members and one fellow commissioner.
Goldberg said she hired outside investigators to probe problems at the commission, but she has not released the report they completed.
In October, O’Brien agreed to put her lawsuit seeking reinstatement on hold when Goldberg offered to hold a hearing at which she could challenge her suspension. That hearing was initially scheduled for November 7, but then postponed until December 5.
In her lawsuit, O’Brien suggests she and Collins were at odds, charging that he sought to undercut her authority. “The executive director…frequently attempted to undermine Chair O’Brien after her appointment,” her lawsuit alleges.
Collins has been out on paternity leave, and the agency’s chief people officer, Debra Hilton-Creek, has served as acting executive director since October.
In his statement, Collins made no reference to the turmoil surrounding the cannabis agency. “Serving as the commission’s inaugural executive director has easily been the most profound and rewarding professional opportunity of my life,” Collins said.
Collins formerly worked as an aide to Goldberg in the treasurer’s office.
O’Brien herself formerly served as state treasurer. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002, losing to Mitt Romney.
In September, Moore, the state senator, pointed to O’Brien’s comments about a “crisis” at the agency and joined other state lawmakers in calling for an oversight hearing. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.
In November, Moore sent a letter to DiZoglio and the state comptroller asking for an audit and review of the agency’s compliance with state law. Between September and October, the agency did not have someone empowered to act as executive director during Collins’s absence, according to Moore. The “failure [to] empower” someone “raises questions regarding the validity” of the agency’s actions taken during the one-month period, Moore wrote.
Moore added an audit is “critical” since the agency has indicated it might need additional funds for fiscal year 2024, and it faces a $600,000 shortfall.
“With everything that has gone on within that agency over the last year or two, I thought it was a good question to find out if they had the authority to issue regulations or work that they have done,” Moore said.
A DiZoglio spokesperson said the senator and the auditor have scheduled a Friday phone call to “discuss his concerns and ensure they are heard loud and clear.”
Asked about Moore’s letter, a Cannabis Control Commission spokesperson said agency officials remain “confident in the functioning of the agency, including our recent promulgation of historic regulatory reforms. We welcome feedback and engagement from all constituents and remain available to the Legislature to answer any questions they may have about our operations.”