One of the biggest challenges facing California “pot czar” Lori Ajax in developing the first statewide regulations for medical marijuana might simply be getting folks to grasp what she and her team are and are not doing.
To be clear, Ajax — chief of the brand spanking new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, in the Department of Consumer Affairs — is tasked only with coming up with the rules for how we manage medical marijuana production and sales in this state. Period. That means: what and how the growers grow, what and how truckers get it to the dispensaries, and then what and how those dispensaries sell to you. Conversely, she is unable to do a single thing about dispensaries or growers who still can’t access the same kind of banking services other legal businesses take for granted. She also isn’t setting up the rules for recreational pot use — at least not until voters are expected to endorse this proposition in November.
But first things first. To get the word out and, more important, to hear directly from the folks who are bound to be most impacted by whatever rules she and her team come up with, Ajax has been holding public meetings all over the state. It’s an important chance for folks to make their voices heard before the rules are set in concrete.
Do people understand the limits of what she’s doing?
“I think they do,” she says. Though that doesn’t mean they aren’t still wound a bit around the axles at times, especially over things like the banking conundrum. “I think those are important concerns. The banking issue is a big challenge for the industry right now. [Banks] want to be transparent, but it’s difficult when you’re dealing with a cash business. So I think there are valid concerns and I think people understand the Bureau can’t change those, but it’s important that while we go through the regulatory process I understand what’s going on.”
To her credit, Ajax seems sincere in her desire to hear from people. She readily admits to not being a pot smoker, which likely doesn’t have much impact on the nuts and bolts of building a bureaucracy, but probably means something to those being regulated. But Ajax, nothing if not approachable, is OK with letting folks educate her.
“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about cannabis and still don’t know about cannabis,” she says with a laugh.
That’s good news for anyone looking to weigh in on the issue. The agency is collecting emails from folks who want to know when and where an informational session will happen in their area. There will also be a public comment period after the rules are drafted. That date is fluid, but it should come well in advance of the Jan.1, 2018 deadline when the state is supposed to begin issuing licenses.
“Early on, I think there was a concern that people weren’t going to have a chance to voice their concerns and opinions,” she says. “But there are going to be many opportunities during the next year and half for them to do that.”