An audit on the Massachusetts cannabis industry recently revealed that the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) allowed millions in possibly unsafe cannabis products to be sold to consumers.

The audit report was published on Sept. 26 by state auditor Diana DiZoglio, with the goal of finding if the CCC was following state regulations for recreational cannabis products. The results included data from between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2020, the report stated that $10,192,986 in cannabis products were sold to consumers. Many of the products were sold over one year after they were lab tested, well after the products were considered to be expired and would need to be retested for safety purposes.

Three primary findings were recorded in the audit summary: First, that the CCC “did not identify all products considered expired and prevent their sale to consumers before they were retested. Second, that it “did not ensure that marijuana establishments (MEs) and independent testing laboratories (ITLs) properly reported marijuana products that tested positive for pesticides.” And finally, the audit revealed that its employees haven’t received cyber security awareness training.

State law requires labs to report positive pesticide results within 72 hours, but the report explained that the CCC did not follow this rule. In one isolated example, one independent testing facility did not notify the CCC of a positive test result at all.

In a press release, the office of the state auditor recommended that the CCC “improve its processes and procedures, and based on their response to our audit, the CCC is taking appropriate measures to address the concerns noted in this area.”

A statement from DiZoglio explained that the CCC is already making plans for improvement. “According to the Commission’s responses, based on our audit findings, they are taking steps to implement changes and improve policies and procedures to reflect most of our recommendations,” DiZoglio said. “I appreciate the willingness to comply with our audit team and will be following up in the near future.”

Recently, CCC chairwoman Shannon O’Brien announced in July that executive director Shawn Collins would be stepping down from his position to take parental leave. O’Brien described the move as putting the CCC “in crisis.” She later apologized for the “angst” or “confusion” in her original statement.

Collins is the only CCC executive director that has been appointed so far. However, as of September, he confirmed that he has no “definitive plans” to leave. “I remain the executive director as of today,” he told the 22 News earlier in September. “It’s certainly a job that I enjoy quite a bit. It’s a very stimulating job, a lot of novel issues, the issues continue to evolve on a pretty regular basis. So something I still get a lot of energy from.”

For now, he is planning to continue in his role. “So I don’t know what the future holds for me, certainly, but I’m looking forward to clocking in on a daily basis and continuing to do the work alongside the folks that are here at the agency,” Collins said. “So that status hasn’t changed. I remain the executive director and have not resigned.”

When interviewed about leaving the CCC by the end of 2023, he commented that a succession plan for the CCC is necessary. “That would be something I’d want to talk about with the commission as a whole. Again, I think making sure there’s a plan in place for that succession is important. It’s something that commissioners have raised in public meetings throughout the last year,” Collins added. “At this point, there is no concrete plan for the end of the year.”

Massachusetts voters approved recreational cannabis in November 2016 with Question 4, and legal cultivation and possession began in December 2016. Sales took a bit longer to develop, and finally began in November 2018. Since then, cumulative cannabis sales have risen overall, as seen in the most recent sales data. As of Sept. 6, the CCC stated that Massachusetts has collected more than $5 million in gross cannabis sales. “Massachusetts continues to hit record sales even as other states have come online. In fact, our neighboring states Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut also had record sales this summer,” said Collins. “Demand for tested, quality cannabis products remains strong in the region, and consumers shopping in other states have not impacted Massachusetts’ success.”

According to Metrc, Massachusetts is home to “317 retailers, nine delivery couriers, eight delivery operators, [and] one microbusiness.” As of January this year, the CCC has approved licenses for 53 retail stores and four delivery operators.

Over the past five years, 16 cannabis companies either surrendered their licenses, let them expire, or had them revoked. “I would say, from a competitive standpoint, I would expect that to happen. It happens in all industries,” Collins said. “Is there a saturation point in certain areas of Massachusetts versus the entire commonwealth? Product competition and competition for shelf space. You know, at first it was, ‘what can I get my hands on?’ and now you’re starting to see some brands emerge.”

As of September 14, O’Brien was suddenly suspended from her role as CCC chair, having occupied the position for slightly more than a year. The decision was made by Massachusetts state treasurer Deborah Goldberg, but a reason has not yet been provided to news sources.

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