Marijuana plants fill a room at a Denver cultivation facility in December 2013. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

“We need to get started right away”: Massachusetts cannabis commission gets to work

BOSTON — With no staff or permanent office space and only a limited budget, the newly appointed board that will regulate marijuana in Massachusetts met publicly for the first time Tuesday, more than 10 months after voters legalized recreational cannabis.

Among the first votes taken by the five-member Cannabis Control Commission was to allow its chairman, Steven Hoffman, to also serve as interim executive director of the agency until a permanent director is hired.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we need to get started right away,” said Hoffman, noting deadlines spelled out under the November ballot and later revised by the Legislature.

The first meeting of the commission was largely procedural and lasted barely a half hour. The word “marijuana” was never spoken, but Hoffman and the other commissioners reiterated their commitment to carrying out the will of the electorate and doing so in an “open and transparent” manner.

Future meetings would be held not only in Boston, but around the state, Hoffman said.

While it became legal in December for adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to a dozen pot plants in private homes, there remains no legal way to buy the drug for non-medical purposes in Massachusetts, and the first retail pot shops aren’t expected to open until next July at the earliest.

The Legislature voted to delay key regulatory deadlines for six months while drafting a set of revisions to the law that were signed early last month by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, allowing regulatory commission members finally to be appointed.

Sponsors of the ballot question complained that Massachusetts is the only one of the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana to delay implementation. They also expressed alarm that four of the five commissioners on the panel had voted against Question 4 in November.

Jim Borghesani, spokesman for Yes on 4, said while those concerns have not been eliminated, he was encouraged by the early tone struck by the board and the stated commitment by Hoffman, a retired business executive, to meet deadlines for licensing marijuana businesses.

“This is what 54 percent of Massachusetts voters said in November they wanted to see happen,” Borghesani said.

The commission’s first major act should be asking Baker and lawmakers for more funding, Borghesani added. The state so far has released $500,000 of a $2 million appropriation for the agency’s operations in the current fiscal year. Hoffman said after Tuesday’s meeting that “substantially more than $2 million” would likely be needed.

Commissioner Britte McBride, a former assistant attorney general, called for an executive director to be named as quickly as possible to avoid potential conflicts arising from Hoffman’s dual role. The chairman agreed he would hold the interim role no longer than necessary.

The other commissioners are former Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan; Kay Doyle, former counsel to the state’s medical marijuana program; and Shaleen Title, who headed a cannabis industry staffing firm.