Anti-Pot Crusader Named Chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
In a scene reminiscent of a Trump Cabinet appointment, Steven Hoffman, a veteran corporate executive who opposed the legalization of marijuana, was named Thursday as chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, a new agency charged with ushering in an era of legal pot commerce.
The appointment, by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, makes Hoffman, a 63-year-old Lincoln resident who once worked at the powerhouse consulting firm Bain & Co., the state’s top marijuana regulator. He will hire the commission’s executive director and other staff and oversee the drafting of rules governing marijuana cultivators, processors, and medical and recreational dispensaries.
Hoffman has no experience with the cannabis industry, and Goldberg’s office said he voted against Question 4, the ballot initiative approved by voters last year that legalized the sale and possession of marijuana. That makes him the second commissioner at the nascent agency who opposed legalizing the drug, following Governor Charlie Baker’s appointment in August of state Senator Jen Flanagan, who campaigned against Question 4.
Attorney General Maura Healey has one pick for the commission, which she has yet to announce.
Healey, Goldberg, and Baker also jointly appoint the remaining two commissioners.
Critics immediately panned Hoffman’s selection, saying the commission risks being dominated by opponents of marijuana, which will inevitably result in unreasonable restrictions on cannabis companies and limited availability of the drug to consumers.
“We are concerned that a second legalization opponent now sits on the commission, and we hope for balance in the remaining appointments,” said Jim Borghesani, who handled communications for the pro-Question 4 campaign.
Goldberg noted that her options were sharply constrained by the Legislature. Under a package of changes to Question 4 enacted by legislators in July, the treasurer had to appoint a chair with experience in “corporate management, finance or securities,” language copied verbatim from the state’s casino gaming statute.
Goldberg has made little secret of her disdain for the requirement, arguing it had little connection to the chair’s duties. And, she complained, the demanding position’s $160,000 salary was not high enough to entice many qualified executives.
Asked to respond to critics who said that legalization opponents should not oversee the marijuana industry, Goldberg said, “when the Legislature, in its eminent wisdom, decided to make that the criteria for the CCC chair, they themselves were directing it to a more conservative cohort.”
“That is a very unique population,” Goldberg added. “People who are qualified are typically very successful and do not have a commitment to public service. You need someone who can afford to come into state government, who isn’t at the stage of life where they’re trying to put three kids through college.”
Borghesani acknowledged the difficulty Goldberg faced in finding a qualified candidate, saying, “the unnecessarily restrictive qualification language for the chair posed a hurdle for Treasurer Goldberg, but she seems to have selected a chair with impressive credentials.”
Goldberg said she interviewed 22 people but chose Hoffman because he had experience at both large companies and small startups, giving her confidence that he could build the cannabis agency from scratch.
Goldberg and Hoffman both attended Brookline High School, graduating in the same class in 1971. She said they were not close friends.
The new marijuana law stripped the treasurer’s office of its oversight of the marijuana industry and remade the commission as an independent agency run by five members. The deadline for appointing all the commissioners is Sept. 1.
“My role in terms of cannabis is now over,” Goldberg said.
In a statement, Hoffman said he was honored to have been appointed, and added, “I hope to guide this Commission thoughtfully and responsibly as we implement the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts. We have a lot to do, I am excited to get to work.”
He was unavailable for further comment.
Hoffman worked Bain & Co. from 1980 to 1992. He called future governor Mitt Romney a colleague and eventually became a partner and the head of its large Boston office. The firm is separate from Bain Capital, the investment business founded in 1984 by Romney and others who left Bain & Co. Romney briefly returned to Bain & Co. as interim chief executive in 1991 and 1992, when the company faced a financial crisis.