New director seen as ‘major step’ at Cannabis Commission




State House News Service

Published: 03-11-2024 8:47 AM

BOSTON — Aiming to have its new executive director on board by this summer, the Cannabis Control Commission spent hours Thursday crafting the contours of the job and detailing what qualities a successful applicant will demonstrate.

The CCC has not had a full-fledged executive director working every day since its inaugural administrative head, Shawn Collins, went out on parental leave in September. The agency operated on a consensus approach for about a month before it tapped a relative newcomer, Chief People Officer Debra Hilton-Creek, to serve as acting executive director. Collins resigned from the CCC at the end of his leave in December and Hilton-Creek has maintained a hand on the agency’s rudder.

The new executive director will sit atop an agency that has been gripped by upheaval for much of the last year, and also one that is in the midst of implementing the first major industry reform law since non-medical use of marijuana was legalized here in 2016.

The bulk of the work last Thursday was on the job description, where commissioners lay out precisely what they’re looking for in applicants and how they envision the new executive director interacting with both the agency staff that person will oversee and the five commissioners who oversee the executive director.

“This is a major step towards, really, what we want to see in leadership for this agency, in the next phase of the agency and the industry as a whole,” Acting Chairwoman Ava Callender Concepcion said at the outset of the meeting.

The CCC plans to post the job soon and Hilton-Creek presented commissioners with a timeline that contemplated interview rounds beginning in early April and an offer being extended by early May. The document suggested June 3 or June 10 as potential start dates, but Hilton-Creek said the timeline was fluid and would depend on the availability of commissioners.

“We are looking at the possibility of a start date for the new ED sometime in June, it may even be July 1,” Hilton-Creek said. “I’m just saying that because, based on schedules and everything that we have coming up ... so depending on some of those activities, this may be pushed out even further.”

Another issue could also affect the commission’s timeline: whether to engage an external recruitment contractor to help search for potential candidates. Hilton-Creek told commissioners Thursday that the CCC would not use an external recruiter, but there was pushback on that idea from at least one commissioner and it was set aside for more discussion.

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“I’m on the fence on that ... because I want to make sure we cast a wide net and open it up,” Commissioner Kimberly Roy said. “We kind of talked about this — are we going to open it up just in the state? Are we going to open it in the region? Nationwide? So I know other independent agencies in the commonwealth have utilized external recruitment contractors to cast that net, so I guess I’m on the fence.”

Hilton-Creek said she was open to changing gears and explained why she made the initial decision to forgo an outside recruitment firm.

“I based my decision on the fact that we can, this is something that we can do internally and not necessarily have to engage an external contractor. In terms of cost, I was also looking at our budget and what we can afford,” she said. “And so that’s basically how I came to the conclusion that this is probably not something that would be beneficial to us, because it could be done internally.”

The commission also has to determine how much it will pay its new executive director — no decision on a pay range had been made more than seven hours into the commission’s meeting Thursday. Commissioners got a sense of what the two other state agencies also searching for a new executive director — the Mass. Gaming Commission and the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination — plan to pay, as well as what cannabis regulation agencies in nearby states pay. Concepcion said the Gaming Commission’s pay range is $174,745 to $208,109 and MCAD’s range is $172,000 to $215,000.

Collins started as executive director in 2017 at an annual salary of roughly $150,000 and as of 2023 was paid at an annual rate of $207,936, according to data published by the comptroller’s office. Karen Wells, who departed as executive director of the Gaming Commission in the middle of 2023, was paid at an annual rate of $215,696 and MCAD Interim Executive Director Michael Memmolo earns an annual rate of $186,035.

Commissioner Nurys Camargo said it was important for the CCC to clearly lay out what the potential salary for the executive director job will be “because it would be nice for folks who are applying for this job to really understand what the salary is.”

“I think that will cut the pool or increase the pool,” she said.

The CCC also is looking for a new director of investigations and enforcement and director of diversity, equity and inclusion relations, is running an internal search for a new chief of staff, and recently brought on board a new chief financial and accounting officer (Lisa Schlegel) and new budget director (Mark McDevitt). Hilton-Creek said the agency generally has no problem attracting a wealth of applicants for any job openings.

“We never have a shortage of applicants. I can’t tell you how many people who are actually beating down our doors to join our team here at the commission,” she said. “And our HR staff is doing a phenomenal job of trying to keep up with applicants who are coming to us even when they don’t see positions that they want to apply to. So we’re getting applications thrown at us quite constantly and consistently. So that is really a wonderful thing for us.”