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6 new things we learned from California’s Cannabis Czar

Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, talked to us on Friday at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco.

What’s up with weed? Here are the most interesting things we’ve learned:

1. The state’s on schedule – so you may actually be able to walk into a store and buy weed on Jan. 1, 2018. That’s because Ajax may start issuing temporary licenses.

“We are going to issue licenses (on Jan. 1)… we may issue temporary licenses until we complete our background investigations,” she said.

But it’s going to take awhile for the whole system to ramp up.  “There is no possible way we can issue everybody a license on Day 1….For some people, it make take a few months.”

“We expect to accept applications on Day 1,  we expect our licensing system will be in place, where you can go online to apply,” Ajax said.

But if you have a medical card, relax: It’s business-as-usual. “Under MCRSA, if you have a local permit, it allows people to continue to operate if compliance with locals — until the state makes a final decision on applications.”

2. Want a commercial growing license? Talk to your local officials. Now.

“You have to be in compliance with your local jurisdiction before we issue a license,” Ajax said. Full stop.

And because there will be limits to the number of “Type 3” licenses — for growers up to one acre outdoors — so you want to hurry, so you’re at the front of the line.

3. Colorado, Washington and Oregon have offered some helpful hints – but only up to a point.

“Colorado had issues with edibles and overconsumption, and it getting into the hands of kids. Washington taxed very high. We can learn from that,” she said.

“Those are important lesson for us to look at, to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes here.

California has a lot more commercial cannabis than these other states. And we’re really diverse — culturally and geographically.

At the end of the day, we’ve had a cannabis industry for two decades. We need to learn from our own folks. We need to do the best model for California.”

4. Cannabis is one plant – so why the heck will there be two sets of proposed regulations?

Here’s the challenge: There are two statutory structures in place, one for medical marijuana (created by the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act) and one for recreational adult use (created by Prop. 64’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act.)

Although the structures are similar, they’re not identical. For instance, they take different approaches to distribution, transport and testing labs. MCRSA established 17 license types; AUMA established 19 license types.

Ajax wants to make these regulations match, if possible — or maybe just create one set of regulations.

“There is going to have to be alignment. We are going to strive to have one set of regulations — because we want to minimize confusion, so people know what rules you have to follow,” she said.

5.  January 1, 2018, isn’t so far away. When can we expect to see these proposed regulations?

Early April for medical marijuana’s MCRSA regs, she said. Then the public can chime in, with a 45-day public comment period and hearings, before the final regs are released.

September is the release date for recreational marijuana’s AUMA regs. Because of the Jan. 1 deadline, these may be “emergency regulations” that go into place immediately, before public comment.

6. Will Jeff Sessions, Trump’s new U.S. attorney general, mess with California?

“We don’t know. We are going to focus on what can control in our state,” she said. “Now we’re operating under federal guidelines (established by former President Obama.) We will operate under these guidelines until we hear otherwise.  That’s the best way to move forward at this point.”