Cannabis Control Commission Divided on Background Check Process

Cannabis Leaves. Photo by Brian Shamlen/Creative Commons

By Pamela Fourtounis
BU News Service

The Cannabis Control Commission held a public meeting Friday morning at the Health Policy Commission Center on Milk Street to discuss the nature of the applicant background checks for cannabis businesses.

The commission is in the final stages of a three-year contract negotiation with a third-party contractor, Creative Services, Inc. (CSI) based in Mansfield, Mass., which would handle the investigative services on the commission’s behalf.

Commissioner Shaleen Title raised concerns at the commission’s weekly meeting on Tuesday about the scope of the background checks the commission would instruct CSI to perform. The five commissioners could not reach a consensus on Tuesday and decided to revisit the issue in a meeting dedicated to the issue.

Title met with CSI to discuss the social media search on Thursday and proposed a qualified media search defined as a “media/social media search of publicly available information for criminal conduct related to disqualifying offenses under 935 CMR 500 [adult use of Marijuana], or violent conduct, and excluding information related to the applicants opinions, private life, or social life.”

“The rationale here is that we have spent hours thoughtfully describing what the disqualifying offenses should be, and so if we were to do a social media search that could flag virtually anything, I think that would undermine those discussions,” Title said.

Evidently, the original language of the media/social media check is part of a commission policy and not located within the contract between the commission and CSI. Based on this distinction, Commissioners Kay Doyle and Britte McBride said the commission should make a motion to approve the contract now and define the search later.

Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan did not take issue with the search at all.

“I will say upfront I don’t agree with [Title’s proposal],”  Flanagan said. “I think whatever is public is public. I’ve lived in a fishbowl; I know the background check I had to go through to get this job.”

Yaw Gyebi, Jr. Chief of Investigations and Enforcement for the commission was in attendance to offer further guidance.  

“There is nothing in the contract that strikes as out of industry norms, ” Gyebi said.

Title and Chairman Steven Hoffman disagreed and voted against the motion to approve the contract, but it passed with votes from Doyle, McBride, and Flanagan.

“If we all agree that this is the right thing to do in terms of the spirit, then I think it should be enduring and not something that expires at the end of the contract,” said Hoffman, advocating for a commission policy limiting the scope of the media/social media search.

“I take the view that this is a relevant policy conversation and one that we should have,” McBride said. She agreed with Title and Hoffman that the commission should form a policy on the media/social media search soon.

Therefore, the process of background checking applicants has yet to be resolved.

As a side note, the commission continues to make progress on granting priority certification to Registered Medical dispensaries and Economic Empowerment applicants. Executive Director Shawn Collins recommended 28 Economic Empowerment applicants for approval and 13 applicants from both categories for denial, which the commission agreed on.

These denials occurred because the applicants submitted after the deadline. The applicants can reapply when the general applications open

on May 1 for cultivators, microbusinesses, craft cooperatives, transporters, independent testing labs and lab agents or on June 1 for retailers and product manufacturers.

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