Drama came to the cannabis industry as Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman, Shannon O’Brien sued state treasurer Deborah Goldberg. O’Brien claimed she was unlawfully removed from her position. The incident is one of many that has plagued the agency that oversees the state’s cannabis sector.
Why Did the Massachusetts Cannabis Chairwoman Sue the State Treasurer?
The Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman filed her lawsuit on Sept. 28, 2023. She claimed she was suspended without notice or “articulated reason”. She also alleged that she was unable to argue her case. These processes are all required by law.
O’Brien was suspended in early September. She was appointed to the position of Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman over a year ago. Her dismissal was the latest of many dramas that have plagued the agency since its formation.
The Laws Surrounding the Dismissal of the Massachusetts Cannabis Chairwoman
According to state law, the treasurer, governor, and attorney general are permitted to remove a Cannabis Control Commission chairperson who is “guilty of malfeasance in office, substantially neglects the duties of a commissioner, is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office, commits gross misconduct, or is convicted of a felony.”
The law also states that a commissioner “shall be provided with a written statement for the reason of removal and an opportunity to be heard” before removal. However, it does not lay out specific guidelines for chairpersons.
History of the Massachusetts Cannabis Chairwoman Claim
Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman O’Brien’s claim states that Goldberg asked her to apply for the position in July 2022. O’Brien was weary because the previous chairman, Steven Hoffman, stepped down for unknown reasons.
O’Brien claimed that Goldberg wanted her “to be a change agent at the CCC, an agency that is widely recognized to be broken and failing to serve the public interest, and the interests of disadvantaged communities in particular, because of an entrenched bureaucracy and infighting.”
“The very same entrenched bureaucracy successfully rid itself of the prior CCC Chair through the making of false allegations against him,” the complaint went on.
O’Brien also alleged that Goldberg informed her that “she was not happy with how the CCC was operating, and specifically expressed her disappointment with the performance of the CCC’s Executive Director” at the time of the appointment.
When asked for a response to the claim a spokesperson in Goldberg’s office stated, “The Treasurer is confident that she has taken the appropriate actions to address the matter.”
But earlier in the day, she released a statement that offered more insight into the reason for the dismissal. She stated the suspension of the Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman was due to her underwhelming response to “reasonable and increasing demands for information and transparency.”
“Several allegations were made by a Commissioner and CCC staff about the Chair’s behavior and the CCC initiated an investigation, hiring an outside law firm. The law firm undertook an investigation and has returned with a report. According to the CCC’s employee handbook, suspension without pay is the only allowable remedy at this point, as the findings are being reviewed and action is considered,” the statement went on.
Goldberg did not share any additional details on the reason for the suspension. Her attorney said she would release another statement soon.
The treasurer noted that the commission’s independent agency status complicates matters. As a result, her office has no “authority, oversight, management, or influence over the Commission” beyond appointing the agency’s chair and commissioners.
Andrew Napolitano, a treasurer’s office spokesperson, released an email stating that “the treasurer is confident that she has taken the appropriate actions to address the matter.”
O-Brien’s Political History
The Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman has a long history in politics. She served six years in the Massachusetts House and two years in the Massachusetts Senate in the 1980s and 1990s. She was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee against Mitt Romney in 2002.
O’Brien departed from politics in the 2000s. During that time, she worked at the Boston television station WB 56. She later became the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Boston.
From 2008 to 2010, she served as the chair of the Pension Reform Commission. She is also the owner of the O’Brien Advisory Group, a company that helps growth-stage businesses by providing strategic advice on fundraising and development. She has worked with several firms representing the healthcare, financial, telecommunications, and financial industries.
O’Brien officially started her role as Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman in August of 2022. She was the third person to hold the CCC chairperson position. Previous chairpersons were Steven Hoffman and interim Chair Sarah Kim.
The state treasurer is responsible for appointing the CCC chairperson. The chief qualification is a background in the financial industry.
Update on the Case
The Goldberg-O’Brien case was headed to court in late November. But on October 5, the Massachusetts cannabis chairwoman put her case on hold pending a meeting requested by Goldberg.
O’Brien released the following statement regarding the case and meeting.
“I filed my lawsuit in order to force Treasurer Goldberg to follow the law and give me an opportunity to be heard. She notified my legal counsel yesterday that we will have a hearing in early November.
“When I was appointed by Treasurer Goldberg, she gave me a clear mandate to fix the very real and long-standing problems at the Commission. I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity to explain in detail to the Treasurer and the Public the significant issues facing the Cannabis Control Commission, what I encountered when I tried to fix them, and explaining why I should immediately resume my duties at the Commission as Chair,” she said.