Department of Cannabis Control Names Leadership Team

Announcements

Department of Cannabis Control Names Leadership Team

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) was established Monday, July 12. The creation of this standalone cannabis department is part of a larger effort to improve access to licensure, simplify regulatory oversight and support California businesses.

The following individuals have been selected to serve as permanent members of the DCC’s leadership team:

  • Director – Nicole Elliott
  • Chief Deputy Director – Rasha Salama
  • General Counsel – Matthew Lee
  • Administration Division – Melissa Eidson
  • Compliance Division – Richard Parrott
  • Equity & Inclusion Division – Eugene Hillsman
  • Legal Affairs Division – Tamara Colson

The divisions listed below will have deputy directors placed through a competitive recruitment process. In the interim, the following individuals are serving in a temporary capacity: 

  • Enforcement Division – Bill Jones
  • External Affairs Division – Christina Dempsey
  • Information Technology Division – Jason Piccione
  • Laboratory Services Division – Gordon Vrdoljak
  • Licensing Division – Michael Cheng

“The formation of the Department is the culmination of 18 months of effort, but it is just the beginning of our efforts to improve the cannabis regulatory structure,” said Nicole Elliott, Director of the Department of Cannabis Control. “Chief among our goals is to simplify participation in the legal market by streamlining licensing and the regulatory framework. Collectively, these dedicated public servants bring extensive experience from the state and local level to the leadership team. The Department and our stakeholders will be well served by this group, and I look forward to working alongside them on the efforts ahead.”

Recruitments for the acting positions will be posted on the State of California’s careers website, CalCareers.

Biographies

Director – Nicole Elliott

Elliott was the Governor’s Senior Advisor on Cannabis at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Previously, she was Director of the Office of Cannabis for the City and County of San Francisco’s General Services Agency from 2017 to 2019, where she served as Project Manager in 2017. Elliott held multiple positions in the Office of San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee from 2011 to 2017, including Director of Legislative and Government Affairs, Board Liaison, Director of Appointments and Commission Liaison. She held multiple positions in the Office of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from 2009 to 2010, including Budget Office Policy Assistant, Director of Scheduling and Deputy Board Liaison.

Chief Deputy Director – Rasha Salama

Salama was Assistant Branch Chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch. She worked for the Department of Public Health for 11 years, including as Staff Services Manager II for the Maternal Child Adolescent Health Division, Health Program Specialist I in the Center for Environmental Health, Associate Accounting Analyst with the Drinking Water Program and Associate Accounting Analyst in the Resource Management Section. Salama earned a Master of Arts degree in business and community development from California State University, Sacramento.

General Counsel – Matthew Lee

Lee served as Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom from 2019 to 2021. He was Deputy City Attorney in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office from 2016 to 2019. Lee served as a Law Clerk for the Honorable Vince Chhabria at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California from 2015 to 2016, Law Clerk for the Honorable Michelle T. Friedland at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit from 2014 to 2015 and Law Clerk for the Honorable Harry Pregerson at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit from 2013 to 2014. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School and a Master of Philosophy degree in modern Middle Eastern studies from the University of Oxford.

Administration Division – Melissa Eidson

Eidson was the Assistant Director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division. She worked for the Department of Food and Agriculture for 24 years, including as Branch Chief of Departmental Services, Special Assistant in Inspection Services Division, Assistant Legislative Director in the Legislative Office, as well as other positions within the Legislative and Executive Office. Eidson began working at Department of Food and Agriculture as a Student Assistant in the Human Resources Branch.

Compliance Division – Richard Parrott

Parrott was the Director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division. As the Director, he oversaw the implementation of the cultivation licensing, compliance and enforcement programs for medicinal and adult-use cannabis. Parrott has more than 30 years of state government experience primarily working for the State Board of Equalization overseeing the administration of 30 different tax and fee programs, including as the Chief of the Special Taxes Policy and Compliance Division.

Equity & Inclusion Division – Eugene Hillman

Hillsman has been Deputy Director of the Office of Cannabis for the City and County of San Francisco since 2018. He was Assistant Program Officer for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation from 2005 to 2008, where he was Program Assistant from 2004 to 2005. Hillsman earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in history and a Master of Public Affairs degree from Princeton University.

Legal Affairs Division – Tamara Colson

Colson has been Assistant Chief Counsel of the Bureau of Cannabis Control since 2016. She was Assistant General Counsel at the California Department of Consumer Affairs from 2014 to 2016, Chief Prosecuting Counsel at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from 2011 to 2014 and Special Assistant Inspector General in the California Office of the Inspector General from 2006 to 2011. She was Administrative Law Judge at the California Office of Administrative Hearings from 2005 to 2006, Deputy Attorney General at the California Department of Justice’s Office of the Attorney General from 1999 to 2005 and an Associate at Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann and Girard from 1997 to 1999. Colson earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Davis School of Law.

Enforcement Division – Bill Jones

Jones led the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s Cannabis Enforcement Unit, which was previously housed within the Department of Consumer Affairs. Jones has been a law enforcement officer for 24 years, including serving as Commander of the Background and Internal Affairs Unit with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation and as Detective and Sergeant investigating crimes against persons for the California Department of Social Services and the California Department of Developmental Services

External Affairs – Christina Dempsey

Dempsey was the Chief of Policy and Outreach for the California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch. In that role, she led the development of public policy for cannabis manufacturing and the program’s communications to staff and the public, including through the E-Cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Illness (EVALI)health crisis. Dempsey previously worked as a consultant and for a public relations agency specializing in crisis communications. She has a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

Information Technology Division – Jason Piccione

Piccione is the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Information Services and the Agency Information Officer for the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. He previously served as the Department of Consumer Affair’s Chief Technology Officer and held various positions at the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education and the Contractors State License Board.

Laboratory Services Division – Gordon Vrdoljak

Vrdoljak is the Research Scientist Supervisor overseeing the State of California’s cannabis laboratory. The laboratory provided services to Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch and Bureau of Cannabis Control in support of investigations, inspections and scientific review. Vrdoljak led the establishment of the laboratory, including procurement of equipment, hiring of staff and development of standards for testing. He previously worked as a chemist and laboratory manager within the California Department of Public Health’s Food and Drug Laboratory Branch and at the Clorox company, and as a Research Associate at UC Berkeley. Vrdoljak has a Doctorate in Chemistry from University of California, Berkeley and a Masters in Geology from the University of Toronto. 

Licensing Division – Michael Cheng 

Cheng is a Staff Services Manager III in the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s Licensing Division. He served as the first Licensing Manager and first Licensing Section Chief within the California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch. Michael previously worked as an operations and financial analyst for several international technology and financial holding companies in Beijing, New York, and San Francisco, where he developed and implemented process management systems and caseload projection models. Cheng has a Master of Business Administration from San Francisco State University.