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Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat, will resign her seat at the end of the month to become one of five members of the new Cannabis Control Commission, tapped by Gov. Charlie Baker to help take on the responsibility of regulating the burgeoning recreational marijuana industry and licensing retail pot shops.
Flanagan, who voted against the 2016 ballot question legalizing pot for adults and has made mental health and substance abuse issues her main focus in the Legislature, will assume her new duties on Sept. 1.
She is the second senator to leave that branch this year for a new job, and the special election to fill the seat will be the third in the Senate since the session began in January.
Baker called Flanagan a "champion and important partner" to the administration in its efforts to expand access to substance abuse prevention and treatment and combat the opioid epidemic.
"Her experience and service will be invaluable to the Cannabis Control Commission and to the people of Massachusetts as the Commission, our administration, the Treasurer, Attorney General, lawmakers, educators and public health and safety professionals work together to ensure the effective, responsible and safe implementation of the adult use of marijuana in the Commonwealth," Baker said in a statement.
Based on the law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this summer overhauling the legal marijuana ballot law, the governor's appointee to the CCC was to have a background in public health, mental health, substance use, or toxicology.
Apart from her work in the Legislature, Flanagan has a master's degree from Fitchburg State University in mental heath counseling.
Flanagan is the first selection to the powerful new Cannabis Control Commission that is due to be in place by Sept. 1. In addition to the governor, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg gets to appoint the chair of the new commission and the remaining slots will be filled by Attorney General Maura Healey and two consensus picks of the governor, attorney general and treasurer.
The commission will be under a tight schedule to get up and running and begin issuing regulations and setting up an application process to be able to begin licensing retail marijuana shops. After voting in December to delay many key aspects of the ballot law by six months, the Legislature's target date to begin licensing retail pot shops is June 1, 2018.
The Cannabis Control Commission, which was modeled after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, has also been tasked with setting potency limits for edible marijuana products and packaging requirements that conform to health and safety standards set by the Legislature.
Flanagan served four years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2008 to represent the Worcester and Middlesex District that includes the cities of Fitchburg, Gardner and Leominster and the towns of Berlin, Bolton, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Westminster, Townsend and two precincts in Clinton.
The position on the Cannabis Control Commission for Flanagan will come with a salary expected to be around $120,000 a year.
Flanagan currently co-chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery and is the chair of the Special Senate Committee on Addiction Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options.
Last October, she told The Sun, of Lowell, that she planned to vote against Question 4 legalizing pot because of "many unknowns and unanswered questions about what this would mean for the commonwealth."
Flanagan could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a statement said, "I look forward to serving on the Commission as Massachusetts moves forward in responsibly regulating this new industry."
Yes in 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani expressed wariness of Flanagan's appointment. "As he did with Chief John Carmichael, the governor has placed a legalization opponent on a key regulatory committee. We hope that Senator Flanagan will put her personal position aside in order to advance the will of Massachusetts voters," he said in a statement to the News Service.
Walpole police chief Carmichael, a solid opponent of legal marijuana, was one of Baker's five picks for the Cannabis Advisory Board, which will work with the CCC to help regulate the pot industry.
The Leominster Democrat's departure from the Senate at the end of month will trigger another special election this year.
The state has already held one special election in 2017 following the death of Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, and elections are scheduled in October and November to fill seats vacated by former Sen. James Timilty of Walpole, former Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and the late Rep. Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams.
While the open seat in the Senate will surely draw interest in many corners of the district and from both parties, former state Rep. Richard Bastien, a Gardner Republican who currently runs the Massachusetts Veterans's Memorial Cemeteries, stoked the speculation mill by tweeting two emojis - a pair of eyes and a thinking face.
Baker, Goldberg and Healey face a deadline of a week from Friday - Sept. 1 - to round out the Cannabis Control Commission.
- Baker Signs Marijuana Bill. Here Are 5 Numbers Related To The New Law
- Recreational Marijuana
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