Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


Lori Ajax Will Oversee the State's First System for Regulating 
Medical Cannabis. but She Faces a Moving Target.

SACRAMENTO - Lori Ajax has two years to set up California's first 
system to license, regulate and tax medical marijuana. Gov. Jerry 
Brown recently appointed the Republican to become the first chief of 
the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

Ajax, 51, was previously chief deputy director at the California 
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, where she worked in various 
positions since 1995. In her new role, she faces a moving target: 
California voters are likely to vote on an initiative in November 
that would legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The measure includes a provision that would transform Ajax's office 
into a Bureau of Marijuana Control that would also be responsible for 
regulating non-medical cannabis, significantly expanding Ajax's 
responsibilities. Ajax's office has been lent $10 million by the 
state to set up a 25-person bureau that can begin issuing licenses 
Jan. 1, 2018.

Ajax sat down Thursday for an interview at her Sacramento office.

What about your background has prepared you to oversee the regulation 
of medical marijuana?

Twenty-one years at the Alcoholic Beverage Control [Department], 
starting out early on as an agent and then working my way through the 
ranks. So I dealt with licensing structures and alcohol licenses and 
enforcement of those licenses in my various positions. And alcohol is 
a highly regulated product, so I think it is beneficial in setting up 
this structure for medical cannabis. I think it's going to be 
helpful. I also had a lot of stakeholder involvement with the public 
and prevention groups and the industry and law enforcement.

Did you vote in favor of Proposition 215, the measure legalizing 
medical marijuana, and why?

I don't remember, to be quite honest with you. That was a long time ago.

Is there a legitimate reason for people to get medical marijuana?

Yes, I do think there is. Unlike regulating alcohol, I'm not a user 
of marijuana so I am not familiar with how that affects people or 
what it does. But from the outreach I've done since I got here, it 
appears there is a medical need and I'm tasked with doing this and 
I'm going to do it. At the end of the day, my opinion shouldn't 
matter. This is what was passed into law and I'm going to get this 
done by Jan. 1, 2018.

You have never used marijuana?

No. I'm not a marijuana user.

Do you have a position on the initiative proposed for the November 
ballot that would allow recreational use of marijuana?

No. Right now I have enough on my plate just dealing with medical 
marijuana. Of course we have an eye on that ball. I'm of the mind 
that whether or not that happens, we will deal with that then, and 
the bureau needs to be nimble enough that we may have to change directions.

What do you need to accomplish between now and 2018 so that the state 
can begin licensing medical marijuana operations?

A lot. I have on my whiteboard "633 days." It's a good reminder how 
it's actually a short period of time. Last week, I doubled my staff. 
I have another person that started and we are hiring. In order to get 
this done, we have to have people. From there we are doing some 
stakeholder engagement. We are scheduling stakeholder meetings toward 
the end of this month and in May to go to different areas of the 
state just to introduce ourselves to people. There will be lots of 
chances to listen to the industry, listen to the public - whoever 
wants to attend. And then we are going to get into stakeholder 
meetings that are more focused on regulation drafting. It's going to 
be daunting.

How will you draft the regulations?

Instead of us coming out and drafting it, I think we want to get 
feedback first, draft it, and then put it out for comment. I think 
that might be a more efficient way to handle it.

There has been talk that some people are gaming the system, getting 
medical marijuana cards without having real medical conditions. Do 
you think that there are some people out there who don't deser ve 
these cards, and the state should do more to make sure that they are 
going to people who actually have medical issues?

I don't have enough information at this point to tell you whether I 
think that is happening. I think over the course of the next couple 
of years that is something we are going to have to look at.

Do you know anybody among your relatives and friends who has needed 
medical marijuana?

I do not. I have heard stories, of course. And through my meetings 
I've set up with industry groups and with legislators, I've heard 
stories of how it has helped folks with cancer.

How do you keep those convicted of serious felonies who were illegal 
drug dealers from infiltrating the system of growers and sellers?

That's going to be through our licensing process. We are going to 
have to do a background, a fingerprint check and then you evaluate 
the seriousness of the crime at that point. The federal government 
still considers marijuana sales and possession a crime. Does it 
concern you that you are going to regulate something the federal 
government doesn't recognize?

I have been tasked with a job to do at the state level and I 
understand, yes, that there are some concerns at the federal level. 
But I feel as long as we put in some strong, comprehensive, clear 
regulations I think we can assure the federal government that we do 
have a framework in place that will alleviate their concerns. When it 
comes to regulation, I really feel like if you can minimize the 
confusion for folks and you just have clear, strong, comprehensive 
regulations, that's going to go a long way with the federal 
government, but of course nobody can predict things.

You face a challenge in operating with state regulations when many 
cities and counties will have their own, stricter rules. Do you hope 
the local officials defer to the state rules?

No. The law calls for dual licensing. The locals know best what they 
want in their cities and counties so I think it is a partnership 
between us and the locals. I feel it's really important for me and 
the bureau; we need to make sure we stay engaged with the cities and 
counties. I think it is a good thing, the dual licensing.

Gov. Brown recently said, "The world's pretty dangerous, very 
competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day - 
more than some of the potheads might be able to put together." Do you 
have concerns about health risks associated with longterm use of marijuana?

I think a lot of people are concerned about the lack of research on 
what the effects are of marijuana. I don't have an opinion on that 
other than I think we need to have more research and it's good that 
it's going to be conducted by the University of San Diego.
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