DOH, cannabis commission to have key senior-level personnel changes

Brown succeeds Ford as deputy commissioner for health systems; Riggs to become acting executive director of Cannabis Regulatory Commission

Several senior-level personnel transitions are happening between the New Jersey Department of Health and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Jeff Brown.

Jeff Brown, who currently serves as the executive director of the CRC, will transition to DOH to serve as the deputy commissioner for health systems. He succeeds DOH Deputy Commissioner Robin Ford, who is departing Friday for a new role at the New Jersey Innovation Institute. Brown joins former CRC Deputy Executive Director Kelly Anderson-Thomas, who transitioned to DOH as a deputy commissioner for public health services earlier this spring.

Christopher Riggs.

Christopher Riggs, the current deputy executive director and former chief counsel at CRC, will serve as acting executive director of the CRC following Brown’s departure later this month.

“Since its establishment, Jeff and Christopher have capably guided the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, implementing our adult-use cannabis market and ensuring a diverse and equitable landscape throughout the industry. I look forward to working with them both in their new capacities within the administration,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Robin Ford.

“I am grateful to Robin Ford for her dedicated work over the years serving as the deputy commissioner of health systems and previously as the executive director of the Office of Health Care Financing,” Murphy continued. “In some of the darkest times in our state, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Robin played a crucial role in helping us support the health care system in keeping our residents safe and healthy. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.”

“Executive Director Brown and I have done great work together. I count myself fortunate that I had the opportunity to launch New Jersey’s recreational cannabis industry with a partner who shared my vision for a socially equitable and safe market. New Jersey cannabis would not be the thriving state example it is today if not for Jeff’s work behind the scenes and in public over the last six years. He leaves a strong legacy for the commission to continue to build on,” CRC Chair Dianna Houenou said. “I could not be more pleased that the agency will have the benefit of leadership continuity with the appointment of Chris Riggs to the role of acting executive director. Chris has proven to be a diligent and thoughtful leader since joining us in the early days of the commission. I am confident he will continue to excel in this new role.”

At the CRC, Brown has been responsible for organizational strategy, policy and managing a $17 million budget. Having served in his current role since the inception of the commission, he has played an instrumental role in organizational structure. His work included leading and overseeing the first-ever comprehensive regulations to underpin New Jersey’s personal use cannabis industry, development of one of the most innovative laws and tax structures for cannabis sales in the country and hiring and directing staff who have been instrumental in the processing of over 2,000 applications for businesses and the issuance of over 200 permits and licenses for business operations.

Before joining CRC, Brown served as an assistant commissioner at DOH, overseeing the Division of Medicinal Marijuana. Under his leadership, the Division of Medicinal Marijuana expanded access to patients throughout New Jersey, increasing the number of enrolled patients from 17,000 to over 95,000 and more than doubling the number of participating physicians and dispensaries. He has years of experience in health policy, government affairs, communications and both advocacy and electoral campaigns.

Prior to his time at DOH, Brown worked extensively on the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, particularly the creation of health insurance exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid, has led an association of community-based providers to implement innovative new payment models in Medicaid and has fought to expand access to health care in New Jersey’s urban communities by developing sustainable financing policies.

Riggs was the inaugural chief counsel of CRC, where he assisted in building the foundation of the new regulatory agency from the ground up since 2021. As such, he supervised and oversaw the office of chief counsel, including but not limited to issues with licensing, investigations, litigation and rulemaking. Prior to joining CRC, Riggs spent several years in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, most recently serving as the deputy attorney general and assistant section chief in the Division of Law – health and human services section. There, he supervised deputy attorneys general handling all aspects of civil litigation, including state, federal and administrative matters; and worked on legal matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.