Former Business Executive to Head Panel Regulating Legal Pot in Massachusetts

Photo by Jesse Faatz

BOSTON (AP) — A former business executive who opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana was tapped Thursday to head the Cannabis Control Commission, a new state agency responsible for regulating pot in Massachusetts.

The appointment of Steven Hoffman was announced by state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who under law was tasked with selecting the person who would chair the five-member commission.

Hoffman, 64, is the second person appointed to the panel that is supposed to be up and running by Friday. The only previously chosen member is outgoing Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, who was named last week by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and who also voted against the marijuana ballot question.

Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, was expected to make a selection to the commission by Friday, according to an aide.

The final two members will be chosen by mutual agreement of Baker, Goldberg and Healey, as required under a bill approved by the Legislature last month that made revisions in the voter-approved law that legalized adult use of recreational marijuana.

Hoffman, who was not available for an interview on Thursday, voted against the November ballot question. A spokeswoman for Goldberg said she did not know Hoffman’s reasons for opposing the measure.

In a brief statement, Hoffman, a Lincoln resident who will serve a five-year term as chairman and earn a $160,000 annual salary, said he hoped to lead the commission “thoughtfully and responsibly as we implement the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.”

Hoffman’s business career includes a 12-year stint as a partner at Bain and Co., a Boston-based management consulting firm. He most recently served as president and chief executive of Exchange Solutions Inc., a marketing and advertising consultant. He is a registered independent voter.

The marijuana law required Goldberg to select a chair with a background in business and finance.

“I am confident that he will serve the Commonwealth well and steer this brand-new industry in the right direction,” Goldberg, a Democrat, said of Hoffman.

The selection of two people who opposed Question 4 as the first members of the regulatory panel has alarmed advocates for legalized marijuana and the cannabis industry.

Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the group Yes on 4, acknowledged that Hoffman had “impressive credentials.”

“However, we are concerned that a second legalization opponent now sits on the Commission and we hope for balance in the remaining appointments,” he said.

The commission will begin its work Friday without staff or designated office space, and with a $2 million budget for the current fiscal year that Borghesani’s group contends will be far less than needed to meet an ambitious timetable, which includes licensing the first retail marijuana establishments by mid-2018.

Neither Hoffman nor Flanagan has any direct experience with the cannabis industry.

Jesse Alderman, who has represented prospective marijuana businesses for the Boston law firm Foley Hoag, said the commission should include at least one member who “understands the industry,” having been either a regulator or operator in a state like Colorado or Washington, where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years.

“I would like to see someone who comes from a position of experience, specifically in cannabis,” said Alderman, adding, “There are very few people who fit that profile.”

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