Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Brooke Edwards Staggs


For those who celebrate April 20 as "weed day," and those who don't, 
here's a prediction to consider:

Pot businesses soon might rival or even outnumber sanctioned booze 
businesses in California, says the head of the state's new agency 
overseeing marijuana.

"I do think we're going to have a big licensing population here in 
California as it relates to cannabis," said Lori Ajax, the newly 
appointed chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

There were 88,490 active alcohol licenses last year. That indicates 
Ajax - aka "the pot czar"  will have a big task before her and a lot 
of eyes on her, with California already estimated to account for half 
of the nation's marijuana industry.

"No pressure, right?" said a laughing Ajax.

Both her position and her bureau were created in October when Gov. 
Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act into law.

The new regulations are an attempt to rein in an industry that's 
operated largely in the shadows in the 20 years since Californians 
voted to legalize medical marijuana. That's led to a mishmash of pot 
laws aimed at supporting legal use for patients while still 
attempting to stamp out recreational use and abuse.

"I think there's a lot of ambiguity right now," Ajax said. "My vision 
is that we put together a strong regulatory structure where medical 
marijuana patients can get access to safe medicine and that 
Californians can be proud of."

As if that's not a daunting enough task, Ajax's mandate (and the 
number of pot licenses) might expand dramatically if Californians 
approve the recreational use of cannabis at the ballot box in November.

Either way, her bureau won't be doing it alone. The Department of 
Food and Agriculture will monitor cultivation, and the Department of 
Public Health will supervise manufacturing and testing of cannabis 
products. Ajax's bureau  which is under the Department of Consumer 
Affairs  will regulate transportation, distribution and sales.

But with 17 licenses to establish, some leaders in California's 
nearly $3 billion medical marijuana industry have quietly voiced 
concerns that clear rules might not be in place in time to start 
issuing permits by the target deadline of Jan. 1, 2018.

Ajax has no such doubts.

"There is no room for failure here. It's going to happen."

coming to O.C.

Ajax started at Sacramento State as a history major. It only took one 
criminal justice class to change her path, which led to a 21-year 
career with the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control.

"You can make a difference in a community by regulating alcohol and 
making sure people are doing what they're supposed to be doing, and 
keeping alcohol out of the hands of kids," she said. "I really liked 
that mission."

The Sacramento-area Republican rose through the ranks at the ABC, 
serving since January 2014 as the agency's chief deputy director.

Ajax was appointed by Brown chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana 
Regulation on Feb. 3, beating out stiff competition to take over the 
potentially powerful new state agency. She was sworn in three weeks later.

Ajax, who says she doesn't use cannabis, previously had little 
knowledge of California's medical marijuana scene. But she found the 
idea of building a regulatory agency from the ground up "fascinating."

"I think that it was maybe a good thing that I came into this not 
knowing a lot about the cannabis industry," she said. "I didn't come 
in with any preconceived notions."

To get to know the community, she's launching a series of meetings 
across the state, with one in the works for Orange County sometime in May.

"Ms. Ajax appears to be seriously engaged in working with 
stakeholders and the industry to make MMRSA a success," said Aaron 
Herzberg, who runs CalCann Holdings, a Costa Mesa company that 
invests in everything from real estate for marijuana cultivation to 

Herzberg heard Ajax during her first public address at the California 
Cannabis Industry Association's conference last month in Sacramento. 
He said he was encouraged by her effort to understand industry needs, 
and her commitment to hit that Jan. 1, 2018, deadline.

"If she manages to pull off that ambitious goal it would be an 
amazing accomplishment," he said.


For her first month on the job, Ajax was the bureau's only employee.

Brown recently appointed An-Chi Tsou, a state Assembly committee 
policy consultant who helped draft the marijuana bill , to be the 
bureau's senior policy adviser. And the state is advertising now for 
an assistant chief.

The proposed budget for the coming fiscal year calls for 126 new 
government jobs tied to the new marijuana regulations, including 25 
who will work in Ajax's bureau.

The next challenge, she said, will be to fill out details of the new 
law, incorporating public input and getting a final draft of all 
regulations approved.

A key part of that effort involves sorting out the rules for 
enforcement of marijuana laws. Generally, Ajax expects the bureau to 
work much like other industries regulated by the Department of 
Consumer Affairs, with complaints triggering investigations.

The state also will train local law enforcement to understand the new 
regulations, and Ajax said the agency will work closely with police 
once the rules are firmly established.

Building the bureau is in some ways a moving target, with cleanup 
legislation and related bills pending that could shift direction a bit.

And more change could be in the works if voters redraw the cannabis 
rules yet again. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is expected to 
qualify for the November ballot, calls for Ajax's agency to oversee 
the recreational use of cannabis in addition to the drug's medical uses.

Ajax insists she hasn't yet pondered how her job will change if 
recreational use becomes legal. For the time being, Ajax remains 
focused on the challenges already in place.

"I want to be involved in just putting in a really strong, fair, 
consistent regulatory system that everyone can look at and say, 'Look 
what California did.' "
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom