The Codcast: New pot czar a breath of fresh air

Steven Hoffman was successful at just about everything he did during his long business management career but, even by his own admission, his latest venture was proving difficult to master.

“I was failing at retirement,” said the affable 64-year-old Lincoln resident, who is the new chairman of the state Cannabis Control Commission regulating the emerging legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts.

With his golf game going south rather than improving, Hoffman said he was on the lookout for “new challenges.” But after a career that included being a partner at Bain and Company and stints as CEO and top executive at management consulting firms, he wanted to change direction.

“I wanted to do something very different from my past, something that offered new challenges,” Hoffman said on The Codcast. “I wanted to do something that had an impact on something other than a company’s bottom line.”

That new challenge came in a call from a friend and former business associate who was a former state government official who had a connection to Senate President Stan Rosenberg. Rosenberg was soliciting names for candidates to the cannabis commission that he could pass along to State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg for consideration as chairman.

The friend asked Hoffman if he could mention him and, after Hoffman agreed, the ball was rolling and he was interviewed by Goldberg – ironically, a high school classmate – and tapped for the post to become the first czar of legal pot in the Bay State.

Because the Legislature mandated specific business skills for the position, people with a background and experience in the marijuana industry were unlikely candidates and Hoffman’s selection has raised eyebrows among advocates for the implementation of the law. Hoffman, along with three of the four other commissioners, voted no on the ballot question.

But in his first meeting with the media Wednesday and in the interview afterwards with CommonWealth, Hoffman went to great lengths to dispel qualms about his leadership and his ability to implement the voters’ will while conceding his knowledge pool is shallow when it comes to the business of marijuana.

In a breath of transparent fresh air, Hoffman freely admitted to dabbling in pot as a high school and college student and said while his weed smoking has been rare through the years, he did buy and smoke a joint on a vacation trip to Colorado, where it is legal, over the 4th of July weekend in 2016.

The commission, which will move into temporary office space in the state’s Ashburton Building on Beacon Hill, has less than 300 days to hire staff, including an executive director, and put a regulatory and licensing system in place. Hoffman acknowledges the time is short and also concedes the $2.3 million sitting in a reserve fund is “substantially” less than what will be needed in the first year.

Hoffman said his opposition to the ballot question was more timing and process than disapproval of the drug, which he called “harmless.” He said after speaking with the other commissioners, he’s convinced none of them would have taken the job if they weren’t intent on carrying through with their responsibilities and make legal marijuana available to adults by July 1, 2018.

“We know we have a lot to do,” he said. “We are committed to meeting the deadlines. We’re going to get it done. I can’t tell you precisely how we’re going to do it but we are going to get it done”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker testified before Congress today on health care, and you can read his prepared testimony here.

A Berkshire Eagle editorial slams Baker for flip-flopping on mandatory minimum sentences.

Founding CommonWealth editor Dave Denison says Baker should lead the charge to reclaim the Republican Party — or leave it and run as an independent. (Boston Globe)

The Senate is preparing major legislation, to be unveiled next month, aimed at controlling health care costs. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, after months of denials, confirmed he is under investigation by the FBI concerning investment issues surrounding his tech company SnoOwl, a start-up app company where he continues to serve as president. (Herald News)

John Harrington, president of the Yawkey Foundation, writes a letter to the Boston Globe defending Tom Yawkey against charges he was a racist who doesn’t deserve to have his name adorning the street sign next to Fenway Park.

Worcester officials are keeping tight-lipped about their negotiations to lure the PawSox to town. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Provincetown planning board has given preliminary approval for a medical marijuana dispensary to take the place of the town’s only funeral home. (Cape Cod Times)

Hanover selectmen voted 3-2 not to renew Town Manager Troy Clarkson’s contract a year after he was a finalist for the Barnstable town manager’s job. (Patriot Ledger)

Harwich officials will not appeal a state Land Court decision that a historic cemetery is owned by the First Congressional Church and not the town. The ruling squashed an order by the town for church officials to disinter the remains of 141 people the town claimed were buried on top of unmarked graves. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Attorney General Maura Healey joined 15 other attorneys general in filing suit against the Trump administration’s order rescinding DACA. (Boston Globe) Never mind? Pols and advocates on both sides of the immigration divide are trying to figure out what Trump meant when he tweeted out he would “revisit” his decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order if Congress fails to act on a replacement in six months. (National Review)

Kimberly Atkins and Howie Carr offer dueling takes on who makes up the “dreamers” at the center of the DACA debate — though it doesn’t seem that all those cited by Carr are actually part of this population. (Boston Herald)

In a surprise move, President Trump cuts a deal with congressional Democrats to keep the government operating just after House Speaker Paul Ryan said such an agreement would be “ridiculous and disgraceful.” (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial says it was all bit befuddling but nonetheless good news.

Trump is perfecting the fine art of punting. (Boston Globe)

A report issued by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, says a drug company created fictitious patients in an effort to help sell its product . (CNN)

Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken is named to Politico Magazine’s annual list of “50 Ideas Blowing Up American Politics (And the People Behind Them)” for her work advocating “progressive federalism.” The current issue of CommonWealth features a Conversation interview with Gerken on the subject.

Clark County commissioners in Nevada bar ads for marijuana at the Las Vegas airport to avoid conflicts with the Federal Aviation Administration, which considers pot an illegal substance. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

Shiva Ayyadurai, a Republican running for the seat held by US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, saw his libel claim against tech news website Techdirt dismissed. Techdirt had challenged Ayyadurai’s claim that he invented email. US District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor ruled that because it was nearly impossible to define what email is, Ayyadurai’s claim “is incapable of being proved true or false.” (ars technica)

A Globe editorial says the open race for the congressional seat being vacated by Niki Tsongas presents a solid opportunity for a candidate from the state’s immigrant community — and it points to Lawrence state Rep. Juana Matias as a potential candidate.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is balking at debating his main challenger, Tito Jackson, before the September 26 preliminary election unless two other little-known candidates are included. (Boston Globe)

The state attorney general’s office certified 21 petitions for proposed ballot questions, allowing backers to gather signatures to place them before voters. The office, though, rejected seven other measures including the elimination of tolls. (State House News)

The seven candidates vying to become Framingham’s first mayor split on the question of declaring the community a “sanctuary city,” with one hopeful who lived as an undocumented alien when she first arrived in the town opposing the idea. (MetroWest Daily News)

It’s a 13-way scramble for the Roxbury-based district city council seat Tito Jackson is vacating to run for mayor of Boston. (Dorchester Reporter)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Sotheby’s estimates the Berkshire Museum will net between $46.5 million and $68.6 million by selling two paintings by Norman Rockwell and a host of other artists. (Berkshire Eagle)

Staples shareholders approve the once dominant office supply company’s sale to private equity firm Sycamore Partners. (Boston Globe)

The restored mansion of accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden is back on the market after the Dallas owner failed in converting the historic home into a bed and breakfast and museum. (Herald News)

In an unexpected move, the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve has submitted his resignation for “personal reasons” to President Trump. (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

Half of city residents think Boston should not be granting raises to the 77 public school teachers who are in the school department’s “excess pool” and are not assigned to regular classroom teaching positions, according to a poll commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform. (Boston Herald)

With Lowell officials split on where to locate a new high school, those running for seats on the City Council say the best way to resolve the issue is with a nonbinding referendum put to voters. (Lowell Sun)

TRANSPORTATION

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi says Gov. Charlie Baker’s fix-it credentials are coming into question with the hiring of two top transit officials with spotty management track records.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Hurricane Irma has killed at least 10 people have died in the Caribbean as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded takes aim at Florida, where mandatory evacuations have been underway but tens of thousands of people don’t know where to go as the hurricane’s track remains uncertain. (New York Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A 34-year-old Winchester woman named Sager Kopchak faces 30 years in jail for conning a woman who tried to help her through cancer treatments. Once ensconced at the victim’s home, Kopchak, who was not suffering from cancer, stole her host’s checkbook and went on a buying spree that added up to more than $1 million. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Facebook says it collected at least $100,000 in ads during the 2016 election from a shadow company connected to the Russian government that focused on hot-button divisive issues such as race, immigration, gay rights, and gun ownership.

Nonprofit news organizations are caught in a Catch-22. They operate much like for-profit media because foundations and other financial supporters only provide transitional funding until they can be self-sustaining, according to research conducted by NYU Professor Rodney Benson. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

Kathy Real, the publisher of Worcester Magazine, reinstated editor Walter Bird Jr., who had been suspended after reports surfaced that he had traded sexually charged messages with a woman two years ago. Real said the exchanges were inappropriate, but reinstated Bird after magazine officials took undisclosed “steps they deemed appropriate.”

Erik Wemple analyzes the decision not to prosecute a reporter in West Virginia for aggressively asking questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. (Washington Post)

  • Mhmjjj2012

    The last poll done by Public Policy Polling for Democrats for Education Reform was just a few weeks before the November 2016 vote. That poll’s results showed 59% of respondents “would definitely or probably support Question 2” for more charter schools. Of course PPP and DER got it wrong. Voters trounced Question 2 by 62% to 38%. So why is CommonWealth featuring this new poll along with the Boston Herald article in The Daily Download? The Boston Herald didn’t provide a link to the poll. Public Policy Polling’s website has a lookup by year for its polls but the poll highlighted in the Boston Herald doesn’t come up for 2017…only national politics polls and polls on North Carolina Politics (national, state and culture), California, Milwaukee County and NFL:/Super Bowl. So what’s up with that? Public Policy Polling supposedly conducted a poll on Boston teachers but it’s not listed on their website. The Democrats for Education Reform, a Political Action Committee, has a website but there’s no such poll on it. An internet search “Democrats for Education Reform Public Policy Polling Boston teachers” only brings up the Boston Herald article. What we have is a poll mentioned in a Boston Herald but there’s no way for anyone to figure out what it’s really all about. What’s going on?