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.”

While the newly formed commission charged with regulating the nascent legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts finally got down to business, its historic inaugural meeting, with about 60 to 70 people in attendance, was more about generalities rather than the nuts and bolts of implementing the voter-approved law. Though it was a public meeting, the commission

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.”

Flanagan told reporters she agrees with the goal of hitting the commission’s target deadlines, including a March 15 deadline to complete regulations covering 30 areas. But she said the amount of work to be done may not allow it to happen.

“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.

New Cannabis Control Commission chairman Steven Hoffman, standing, introduced himself individually to audience members prior to the board’s inaugural meeting.

“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.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

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.”