Katherine Hoffman, Ph.D. is a 2022 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Katherine Hoffman at her Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Harriet Schwartz, Committee Member, Dr. Donna Ladkin, Committee Chair, Dr. Dennis Tourish, Committee Member.

Dissertation Committee

  • Donna Ladkin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Harriet Schwartz, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Dennis Tourish, Ph.D., Committee Member


cannabis, cannabis regulation, complex regulatory systems, complexity, complexity leadership theory, drug policy, leadership, learning history, participatory action research, public administration, regulatory construction, social equity, social justice, structure and agency, war on drugs

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The purpose of this qualitative participatory action research was to explore how complexity is engaged and experienced in complex regulatory systems, and to understand how cannabis might be regulated in ways that lead to socially equitable conditions. This was accomplished by studying the lived experiences of governmental leaders charged with the responsibility of establishing regulatory frameworks for legalized cannabis where none previously existed. Using the learning history methodology, the study deeply explores the ways that complex systems coexist by capturing the lived experiences of research participants and enhance theoretical understanding of complex regulatory systems. Data collection occurred through reflective interviews, followed by distillation and thematic analysis. This resulted in the creation of a data table and a learning history artifact that were validated by distribution to research participants and used as both an actionable tool for participants and an analytical tool to distill and categorize research findings. The data table and the artifact established three main findings: complexity is both a property and characteristic of systems; complexity is not a behavior, characteristic or action of “leadership” or “leaders” in complex regulatory systems; and the interplay between social justice and social equity is complex and often oversimplified. Rather than directing, participants brought about change by building interactive trust through dialogue and relationship-building in interactive spaces across and between macro, meso, and micro systems levels. Complexity arose from these participatory human relationships when both the properties and characteristics of these systems were engaged, but the theoretical construct of complexity does not explain the presence of agency within this dynamic. By recognizing agency across all systems, structural barriers may be reduced, resulting in regulatory frameworks that may lead to more socially equitable conditions. This research contributes to leadership and complexity scholarship by empirically describing how complexity is engaged in complex regulatory systems, examining whether complexity has any connection to the practice of leadership, and adding to the emerging area of cannabis scholarship as it relates to social equity and the broader impacts of the war on drugs. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA ( and OhioLINK ETD Center (


Katherine Hoffman

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0002-9734-1885

Dr. Katherine Hoffman currently serves as the Agency Policy and Rules Manager for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board where she oversees policy, rule, and legislative development for alcohol, cannabis, vapor and tobacco products. She joined the agency in 2018, bringing 18 years of experience as a complex civil litigation paralegal in both the private and public sectors with a portfolio that ranged from national pharmaceutical company anti-kickback and false claim cases to cell tower placement suits in small Washington municipalities. She has served as a policy advisor at the Washington State Department of Health, supporting the work of the Pharmacy Commission, the Medical Cannabis Program, and Certificate of Need Program, and as a department representative in Medicaid administrative hearings at the Washington State Health Care Authority.

Dr. Hoffman most recently served on the advisory board at the Tombolo Institute for Design Thinking Program at Bellevue College, Bellevue, WA, and is an active member of both the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA) and the International Leadership Association (ILA). She has presented and been an invited speaker at multiple conferences and symposiums, both stateside and internationally, on the topic of leading change in complex regulatory systems with a focus on legalized cannabis markets. Her work focusing on complex regulatory systems has been published in the Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, and she is a contributing author to three chapters to Thomson-Reuters Cannabis Law Deskbook, now in its third edition.