The balancing act of overseeing industries once under the grips of an entire government-sanctioned drug war is already a tiring bite to chew.
Now, curious developments in Massachusetts and Minnesota have placed state officials under scrutiny over their respective cannabis regulation roles.
The news comes two weeks after the former policy czar of New York’s Office of Cannabis Management, Axel Bernabe, resigned from his post overseeing one of the largest – and possibly the most troubled – legal cannabis rollouts ever.
In Massachusetts, Shannon O’Brien, the state’s top cannabis regulator and chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, was suspended just one year after her appointment, a spokesperson for State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg confirmed to Boston.com. The specifics of the suspension remain undisclosed due to its classification as a “personnel matter.”
Between her decades-long statehouse career – which ended in 2003 – and her appointment to oversee the Cannabis Control Commission, O’Brien co-owned Greenfield Greenery, a proposed outdoor cultivation operation. Her connection raised eyebrows when Greenfield Greenery’s license application was temporarily “remanded” shortly after her appointment.
However, The Boston Globe reported that the permits were granted, and she was later cleared of any wrongdoing related to disclosure regulations.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz publicly took responsibility in the appointment of newly appointed and resigned Erin DuPree as the head of the state’s new Office of Cannabis Management. DuPree, described as a cannabis entrepreneur, stepped down after reports surfaced about illegal sales at her hemp shop.
“One of the responsibilities … is the appointments of literally thousands of people. In this case, the process did not work, and we got this wrong,” Walz said at an event organized by MinnPost.
An acknowledgment from Governor Walz underscored a broader challenge: “You’re picking someone who’s not only going to run an agency, but they’re a regulator,” he said. “People certainly expect that you follow the rules when you’re going to do that.”
DuPree’s unexpected exit and O’Brien’s suspension, as well as Bernabe’s white flag all highlight the challenges faced by states trying to regulate nascent, still-federally prohibited state cannabis markets.
Part of the challenge is finding people with the right mix of qualifications, but, especially with the situation in Minnesota, don’t have a questionable background.
“You need people who have a scientific background, as well as a legal and regulatory background,” Michele Glinn, the chief science officer at Michigan’s leading cannabis testing firm, told the Star Tribune.
Both states now face the challenge of steering their cannabis regulatory bodies amid the debacles. While Charlene Briner, a seasoned state government official, takes the helm temporarily in Minnesota, Massachusetts’s future steps remain uncertain.