Steve Hoffman has resigned as the chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, leaving the state’s marijuana regulatory agency leaderless months before his five-year term was set to expire at the end of August.
Hoffman, who had been the only remaining commissioner of the five people initially appointed to the oversight body at its inception in 2017, did not give a specific reason for his early departure.
In a statement to The Boston Globe, however, he said the commission’s work had reached “a natural inflection point when the time is right for a transition in leadership.”
“Throughout the past four-and-a-half years, the work of the commission has been sometimes challenging, often exhausting, but always gratifying,” Hoffman wrote. “The commission now consists of recently appointed members, and it is appropriate that they pursue their own vision and take on the next generation of challenges.”
Hoffman added he would continue to “root” for the agency, and said he was hopeful the Legislature would advance a package of reforms to the state’s cannabis laws approved by the state Senate in early April.
Hoffman’s resignation took effect April 25, according to an e-mail sent by the commission’s director of government affairs and policy to members of the state Cannabis Advisory Board and obtained by the Globe. It is not clear why the agency did not announce the move earlier, but a spokeswoman acknowledged Hoffman’s departure in a statement Monday.
“Chairman Hoffman’s contributions over the past four-and-a-half years were integral to the growth and maturation of the commission and the legal cannabis industry in Massachusetts,” commission spokeswoman Tara Smith wrote. “The agency thanks the chair for his commitment to ensuring a safe, effective, and accessible marketplace in our state.”
The other four inaugural commissioners — Kay Doyle, Britte McBride, Jen Flanagan, and Shaleen Title — all departed the agency earlier, either when their staggered terms expired or to take private sector jobs.
Under state law, the chair of the cannabis commission is appointed by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office thanked Hoffman for his service and said a posting for the now-vacant position would be issued this week. Two other seats at the agency are appointed by Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, respectively, while the remaining two are picked through a majority vote of Baker, Healey, and Goldberg.
In a statement, Baker’s office thanked Hoffman and the commission for leading “a difficult process that has yielded a stable, successful regulatory structure for the adult use of marijuana.”
The commission first convened in September 2017, after legislators finished a rewrite of the previous year’s legalization ballot initiative. Since then, the agency has written (and rewritten) detailed regulations and hired dozens of staffers and inspectors. Meanwhile, more than 200 recreational marijuana stores have opened in the state, with recreational sales now approaching $3 billion.
Hoffman’s appointment as commission chair at first drew strong skepticism from marijuana advocates and businesses. They pilloried his “no” vote on the 2016 ballot initiative, and questioned the relevance of his experience in more traditional business settings, such as the years he spent working for Mitt Romney at Bain & Co.
But those concerns quickly proved baseless. Hoffman kicked off his term by telling reporters he had smoked a joint with his wife the previous year while watching July 4 fireworks in Colorado, and that he thought marijuana wasn’t harmful enough to justify its prohibition.
Hoffman in general took a pragmatic, probusiness approach to the job of standing up the newly legal cannabis industry, pushing to make regulations clearer while supporting the licensure of delivery and social consumption businesses and speaking out against excessive municipal fees charged to marijuana firms.
At the same time, he also surprised observers with his emphatic embrace of the agency’s social justice mission. Citing decades of racially disproportionate arrests for marijuana, Hoffman voted to give applicants affected by the war on drugs exclusive access to certain license types, and repeatedly called on the Legislature to grant such entrepreneurs a portion of the state’s pot tax spoils.
At one memorable, early meeting of the agency, he choked up while arguing that those previously convicted of certain drug felonies are “just trying to get their lives back” and should still be eligible for licensure.
“One of the great parts of the legislation that we’re trying to enable . . . is that we can actually play a positive role in helping them,” Hoffman said in 2018. “We’re talking about past offenses for which people have paid their debt to society.”
Allowing such people to work in the cannabis industry, he added at the time, “is not just the right thing to do, it’s an imperative thing to do.”
And despite his business-minded approach, Hoffman appeared to take a dim view of companies that tried to bend state regulations, supporting stiff fines against interstate cannabis conglomerates that had sought to control smaller, local outfits through onerous loan and management contracts.
“Steve Hoffman brought a sense of innovation, professionalism, and equity to our new industry,” David O’Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, said in a statement Monday. “His business acumen and passion for social justice helped make Massachusetts a model that other states now follow.”
Laury Lucien, a cannabis attorney and consultant, praised Hoffman for his willingness to meet and speak candidly with activists and others in the space.
“I didn’t agree with everything he did, but I really respect that he was authentic and transparent and open to being educated,” Lucien said. “When he first came on, looking at his business background, I didn’t know if he would just be looking at the numbers . . . I was very surprised and happy that he actually embraced social equity.”
Looking forward, Lucien said she hopes Goldberg will appoint a new chair with more specific experience in the cannabis industry.
“The first cohort of commissioners was a little green,” she said. “Now we want someone who’s actually had to run a heavily regulated business from seed to sale and appreciates what entrepreneurs go through.”