New CCC chair consulted for cannabis companies
O’Brien says she has no current involvement with industry
SHANNON O’BRIEN, the former state treasurer and newly appointed chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, is not a novice to cannabis. O’Brien worked as a consultant for two marijuana companies that obtained licenses from the commission, although she says she has had no contact with either one for nearly a year.
Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced her selection of O’Brien on Tuesday but did not disclose her prior involvement with the industry.
Goldberg swore O’Brien into her new role virtually on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the commission’s founding. An in-person ceremony is planned for next week. O’Brien, a 63-year-old Whitman resident, spoke to CommonWealth soon after the swearing in about her prior cannabis experience and her priorities for the marijuana regulatory agency.
O’Brien, a former state legislator, is best known in Massachusetts for her services as state treasurer from 1999 through 2002 and her unsuccessful run for governor as a Democrat in 2002. She then moved into the private sector, most recently starting her own business consulting firm.
O’Brien said she got to know Goldberg through her work chairing a task force on baby bonds, which looked at how to help lower income families set aside money for college.
O’Brien said she had been talking to Goldberg about economic empowerment and ways of closing the wealth gap for communities of color, and Goldberg suggested she consider applying for the Cannabis Control Commission position as a way to advance those issues in a concrete way. O’Brien said her experience in government, regulation, and business prepared her for the role.
O’Brien made a $125 donation to Goldberg’s campaign committee July 5, 2022. She has previously contributed to both Goldberg and other Democratic politicians.
O’Brien comes from a highly political Western Massachusetts family – her father was a Governor’s Councilor, her grandfather worked in state government, and her great-grandfather was a legislator. She said the time seemed right to return public service.
“Being a consultant, you come in and out, solve individual problems, it’s not like being part of a team,” she said. “That was appealing to me, once again having a very big picture opportunity to work with a team and solve some big problems, and frankly to make Massachusetts a better place to live.”
O’Brien’s experience in cannabis has been primarily as a consultant for two marijuana cultivation companies: Charlemont Farmworks, which was run by former state representative and agricultural commissioner Jay Healy, and Greenfield Greenery, run by Leyden farmer Randy Facey.
O’Brien said she worked with Healy to get a provisional license from the Cannabis Control Commission, but the venture fell through due to restrictions related to wetlands and federal agricultural preservation. O’Brien is listed on that application as an advisor.
“I have not been involved or spoken to anybody on that team for at least 10, 11 tmonths,” O’Brien said, adding that she has no ongoing relationship or promise of payment from either company.
O’Brien said she will recuse herself from any discussion of any company she has worked with.O’Brien said she is still learning about the job and the issues the commission is facing, but she pledged that one of her priorities will be increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion within the industry. “Certainly, there has been a lot of work done to provide resources to equity candidates, but it hasn’t necessarily translated into more business persons being able to be in this industry,” she said.
She said with the new law recently signed by the governor, there will be opportunities to launch a new fund to help entrepreneurs and make sure equity is prioritized in the social consumption and delivery segments of the industry. She suggested there may be ways of partnering with outside organizations – for example, working with a lawyers’ group to provide free or discounted assistance to entrepreneurs looking to enter the marijuana industry.