Since Proposition 64 was passed in November, California has been gearing up to begin sales of recreational marijuana. Who better to ask how that industry is shaping up than the state’s “pot czar,” Lori Ajax?
Ajax is no stranger to substance regulation. Before Governor Jerry Brown appointed her as the state’s first chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Ajax was the chief deputy director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Now, Ajax is switching her focus from booze to bud. She has been tasked with leading the state’s development and implementation of recreational cannabis regulations.
Ajax joined AirTalk to weigh in on how the regulatory framework for California’s recreational cannabis market is coming along and where they’re taking cues from other states like Washington and Colorado that already have a regulatory system for cannabis in place.
Here’s what she says people need to know about entering the state’s budding marijuana industry:
1. The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation is on track to start issuing licenses on Jan. 1, 2018.
Ajax has already finished the draft regulations and recently held a series of public comment hearings on proposed regulations for recreational cannabis. She says the next steps for her bureau are to draft regulations for marijuana adult use.
2. Keep an eye on Gov. Brown’s budget trailer bill on merging Prop. 64 regulations.
Depending on whether this legislation passes, pot shops may be able to to sell both medical and recreational weed in the same store. This would be more cost efficient for businesses, but it could also make it more difficult to enforce the different age restrictions and card requirements. Ajax says merging the regulations from Prop. 64 and the previous Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act would take some of the confusion out of medical and recreational regulations for business owners.
3. There are currently no limits on licenses for micro-businesses.
Prop. 64 has a new license type that allows cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sales all in one license. This type of license is perfect for small businesses and craft growers. Draft regulations for micro-licensing will come out in the fall.
4. But you still can’t be a one-stop shop.
Under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, there was a restriction on how many licenses a business could hold in categories like growing, distributing, testing and retail sales. That could change with Gov. Brown’s trailer bill. Now, businesses can operate as growers, distributors and sellers all at once, but testing must be left to an independent company.
5. Thirty percent of consumers are still expected to buy marijuana on the black market.
The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation contracted with the UC Agricultural Issues Center to do a study on the economic impact of California’s pot industry, and the findings show the potential for a $5 billion bump for California’s economy. “We want to encourage folks to come into the regulated market,” Ajax said. “It’s our responsibility to keep the costs down so it’s not more attractive to buy cannabis on the black market.”
For the full interview, including Ajax’s take on how police will determine how high is too high to drive, whether California should be a ‘sanctuary state’ for marijuana, and Los Angeles’ recently-proposed marijuana business regulations, click the blue player button at the top of the page.
Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation
This segment has been updated.