Late last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to create a new system of rules governing medical marijuana in the state. The same regulations could play a part in full legalization, should voters approve it in November.
Now, the newly appointed head of the agency lawmakers created, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, says she thinks “there is a medical need” for marijuana, breaking with the opinions of many other state officials.
Lori Ajax was named director of the bureau in February and recently started the job. She’s offering something of an olive branch to the legal cannabis industry and the patients it serves, saying MMJ is indeed valid, and important to many of those patients.
Ajax turned to the industry in April, seeking feedback on the regulations she is expected to draft. Those rules will flesh out the details of the law Brown signed in 2015.
“We are scheduling stakeholder meetings towards the end of this month and in May to go to different areas of the state just to introduce ourselves to people,” Ajax told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
Bureau created to regulate marijuana
The bureau was created when Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, a law designed to impose tough new regulations after 20 years of chaotic enforcement. The rules take effect in 2018, but Ajax is already building and staffing her agency.
Among other details, the law created a licensing system to govern the industry, including 17 different types of business licenses for medicinal marijuana. Lawmakers also tightened rules for who qualifies for MMJ and imposed environmental guidelines designed to save water and prevent pollution.
The law is tough, but it won over many in the cannabis industry. They worried the federal government, which bans the drug for any use, would crack down on a system viewed as lawless since voters approved it in 1996.
Ajax praised for measured approach to regulation
Ajax has already made inroads with the community, drawing praise for her measured approach to regulation. The new bureau will make it possible for the industry to move into a regulatory system that would support full legalization. Ajax said she’s eager to get started.
“I have on my whiteboard ‘633 days,’” she said. “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 are doing some stakeholder engagement.”
Ajax worked most recently as head of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, an agency with a somewhat similar mission as the marijuana bureau. Her move made many in the cannabis industry happy.
“It’s not ‘A, B, C’ taking over,” said Lanette Davies, director of the Canna Care dispensary in Sacramento. “It’s someone with experience taking over. This is a policymaker. I expect to see a bunch of policies. . . . I just don’t want my medicine being treated like alcohol.”