Pot board taps chair as interim director
In first meeting, cannabis commission lays out monumental task
THE MAIN ORDER of business Tuesday in the Cannabis Control Commission’s first-ever public hearing was to install an interim executive director and the board didn’t look far – Chairman Steven Hoffman was unanimously approved to take the helm until the panel hires a permanent director.
“We need to get started today and there’s things we cannot do without an executive director,” Hoffman said in offering his name for the interim position.
Commissioner Britte McBride, a former assistant attorney general, raised some concerns about making sure Hoffman’s tenure in the interim post was as short as possible, including potential conflicts and the need to retain transparency in operations. Hoffman agreed McBride’s concerns were well-founded.
“I’m not doing this because I want it,” Hoffman, a retired business management consultant who oversaw startups, told reporters following the 30-minute meeting. “I’m doing this because it’s the right way to get this thing off the ground and operating.”
In addition to appointing Hoffman interim director, board members also voted to make Commissioner Kay Doyle the panel’s secretary and Jennifer Flanagan, a former state senator, the treasurer.
The commissioners also agreed they have to hire not only a permanent executive director, but an executive assistant, a director of communications, and about 25 other clerical and administrative staffers as well as find permanent office space. In the meantime, each of the commissioners will act as their own staff, fielding calls and doing research.
After the meeting, Hoffman said he was “more optimistic” about hitting the statutory deadlines than he was when he was first appointed last week.
“Just in my own mind, I’ve really been able to think of this task list,” he told reporters. “I can now understand more what needs to be done, where before it was a little bit of a mystery to me.”
Flanagan said much of what she’s encountering is different from her lawmaking days, when legislation and meetings were held behind closed doors. “The Open Meeting Law, for one,” she said, laughing, when asked about what was different.
Flanagan again declined to say whether she has ever used marijuana, insisting it’s not relevant to her work on the commission. Hoffman, McBride, and Doyle have said they smoked pot in the past while Flanagan and Commissioner Shaleen Title, who is the founder of a legal marijuana staffing agency, refused to say.
“I don’t think that’s relevant to the job at hand,” Flanagan told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t think whether you’ve used it or not used it relates to the fact that you can do your job. I understand people are curious and I respect that curiosity but we’re also talking about an industry that we’re about to regulate that was passed by the voters.”
“I think it’s something we need to look at and work very closely to make sure we can meet our deadlines,” she said. “We need to get up and running, we need to have people in place, and we need to be able to do our jobs. This is going to be a huge undertaking. You have to understand we were just created. Implementing a whole industry is going to be monumental.”
Will Luzier, the campaign manager for the ballot question who works for the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, said the commission should be able to meet the deadlines and he was encouraged by the initial actions.
“I think it’s a herculean task but I think it’s doable,” he said after the meeting. “I’m hopeful that they’ll meet that July 1 target. I think they need the funding and I’m happy they’re moving forward expeditiously in finding an executive director.”
The Legislature authorized $2 million for the commission’s first year, a number most think is inadequate. The Executive Office of Administration and Finance has released $500,000 for initial costs but Hoffman repeated his belief the panel will need “substantially more” to accomplish its mission.
“I’m not going to put a number out until I have the analysis necessary to support that number,” he said. “But we will need more than $2 million and, yes, I think probably substantially more than $2 million.”Hoffman, who went around the room before the meeting introducing himself to audience members, said he met with proponents of the ballot question and believes he was able to allay some of their concerns about his background, especially his vote against the referendum. Hoffman is one of four commissioners who voted against the initiative; only Title, one of the authors of the referendum, voted for it.
“They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them,” Hoffman said about his meeting with the Yes on 4 people. He said they made an unlikely connection over a recent celebrity death. “We actually talked about the death of (Steely Dan co-founder) Walter Becker…. I think we bonded over that, we were both very saddened about that. I think they’re going to give me a chance.”