WITH ITS CHAIR indefinitely suspended, the four remaining members of the Cannabis Control Commission are having a hard time deciding who’s their leader. They can’t even agree whether they are in a pickle or facing a conundrum.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg suspended Shannon O’Brien as chair of the commission on September 14 due to “serious allegations made by a Commissioner and CCC staff about the Chair’s behavior.” A hearing on the suspension is currently scheduled for December 5.
The commission on September 18 and September 21 voted 4-0 to make Ava Callender Concepcion the interim chair until Thursday, but each time it took almost an hour of debate. The commissioners haggled over the issue again on Thursday before voting 3-1 to retain Concepcion as interim chair until December 15, when the issue will be revisited again.
“I would just again remind everyone that we find ourselves in – Commissioner Camargo keeps using the word pickle, I will say conundrum,” said Commissioner Kimberly Roy, the lone no vote against Concepcion’s reappointment as chair.
At least two of the commissioners – Roy and Bruce Stebbins – believe there is precedent for the secretary of the commission, Roy, to serve as acting chair in the absence of the chair. Commissioner Nurys Camargo, who advocated for Concepcion to be acting chief in the first meeting after O’Brien was suspended, continued to back her Thursday.
“We are all in agreement that Commissioner Concepcion did an amazing job in walking us through the regulatory function of the commission. I also think that she has been doing a great job moving us forward,” Camargo said.
Concepcion feels she is the right person for the job. “It goes without saying that I’m a Black woman and I’m from a neighborhood that the commission consistently identifies as being disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs again and again,” said Concepcion. “There’s never been someone like me on the commission. I don’t take that lightly. I believe this is evident by my work here thus far as well as my demonstrated commitment to the overall mission of the Cannabis Control Commission.”
Camargo and Stebbins put forth motions that would in different ways end the time-consuming conversations about who should be acting chief. Camargo pushed to make Concepcion the acting chief until the business with O’Brien is sorted. Stebbins called for rotating the position amongst the commissioners.
Both motions failed 2-2.
While Concepcion will hold the position until December 15, the time-consuming deadlock is likely to continue until O’Brien or her replacement is put on the commission.
O’Brien was set to have a hearing on her status November 7, but that meeting, according to the treasurer’s office, has been postponed to December 5. One person familiar with the process said that the hearing could be delayed even longer as lawyers on both sides iron out details about who will preside and whether witnesses can be called.
Even after the hearing, it might be some time before the commission has a chair.
In addition to missing a chair, the commission recently lost Adriana Leon, the chief financial officer, and Alisa Stack, the chief operations officer, who have both left the organization. The executive director, Shawn Collins, is on family leave, replaced temporarily by Chief People Officer Debbie Hilton-Creek, who has been at the commission for less than three months.