Baker taps pot foe for cannabis control board

Dem senator is second opponent governor put on regulatory panels


SEN. JENNIFER FLANAGAN, a Leominster Democrat, has become the first of five members of the powerful new Cannabis Control Commission, tapped by Gov. Charlie Baker to help take on the responsibility of regulating the nascent recreational marijuana industry and licensing retail pot shops.

Flanagan, who voted against the 2016 ballot question legalizing pot for adults and has made mental health and substance abuse issues her main focus in the Legislature, will assume her new duties on Sept. 1. She is expected to resign her seat at the end of the month.

Baker called Flanagan a “champion and important partner” to the administration in its efforts to expand access to substance abuse prevention and treatment and combat the opioid epidemic.

“Her experience and service will be invaluable to the Cannabis Control Commission and to the people of Massachusetts as the Commission, our administration, the Treasurer, Attorney General, lawmakers, educators and public health and safety professionals work together to ensure the effective, responsible and safe implementation of the adult use of marijuana in the Commonwealth,” Baker said in a statement.

Based on the law passed by the Legislature, which Flanagan voted in favor of in the Senate last month, and signed by the governor overhauling the legal marijuana ballot law, the governor’s appointee to the CCC was to have a background in public health, mental health, substance use, or toxicology.

Apart from her work in the Legislature, Flanagan has a master’s degree from Fitchburg State University in mental health counseling.

State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan. Photo from Facebook.

In addition to the governor, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Attorney General Maura Healey each have an appointee and there are two consensus picks of the governor, attorney general and treasurer. The chairman is then appointed by the treasurer.

Baker, Goldberg and Healey face a deadline of a week from Friday – Sept. 1 – to round out the Cannabis Control Commission.

The commission will be under a tight schedule to get up and running and begin issuing regulations and setting up an application process to be able to begin licensing retail marijuana shops. After a handful of lawmakers voted in informal session in December to delay many key aspects of the ballot law by six months, the Legislature’s target date to begin licensing retail pot shops is June 1, 2018.

The Cannabis Control Commission, which was modeled after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, has also been tasked with setting potency limits for edible marijuana products and packaging requirements that conform to health and safety standards set by the Legislature.

Flanagan served four years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2008 to represent the Worcester and Middlesex District that includes the cities of Fitchburg, Gardner and Leominster and the towns of Berlin, Bolton, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Westminster, Townsend and two precincts in Clinton.

The position on the Cannabis Control Commission for Flanagan will come with a salary expected to be around $120,000 a year. The statute sets the salary for the chairman of the commission as the same as the secretary of Administration and Finance, currently $161,000.

Flanagan currently co-chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery and is the chair of the Special Senate Committee on Addiction Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options.

Last October, she told The Sun, of Lowell, that she planned to vote against Question 4 legalizing pot because of “many unknowns and unanswered questions about what this would mean for the commonwealth.”

Flanagan could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a statement said, “I look forward to serving on the Commission as Massachusetts moves forward in responsibly regulating this new industry.”

Walpole police chief Carmichael, a solid opponent of legal marijuana, was one of Baker’s five picks for the Cannabis Advisory Board, which will work with the CCC to help regulate the pot industry.

Yes on 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani expressed wariness of Flanagan’s appointment. “As he did with Chief John Carmichael, the governor has placed a legalization opponent on a key regulatory committee. We hope that Senator Flanagan will put her personal position aside in order to advance the will of Massachusetts voters,” he said in a statement to the News Service.

The Leominster Democrat’s departure from the Senate at the end of month will trigger another special election this year.

She is the second senator to leave that branch this year for a new job, and the special election to fill the seat will be the third in the Senate since the session began in January.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The state has already held one special election in 2017 following the death of Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, and elections are scheduled in October and November to fill seats vacated by former Sen. James Timilty of Walpole, former Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and the late Rep. Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams.

While the open seat in the Senate will surely draw interest in many corners of the district and from both parties, former state Rep. Richard Bastien, a Gardner Republican who currently runs the Massachusetts Veterans’s Memorial Cemeteries, stoked the speculation mill by tweeting two emojis – a pair of eyes and a thinking face.