Meet the First Medical Marijuana Czar of California

By LA Lady | April 21, 2016

California’s new medical marijuana czar is an experienced government leader, but not one who uses medical marijuana or has any experience with the industry. Still, she has been tasked with developing an office that will tax and regulate medical marijuana, and would transition that office into a fully-fledged Bureau of Marijuana Control should California voters pass recreational marijuana in November.

The LA Times introduced the state’s first Drug Czar to the residents of California.

Lori Ajax has spent over twenty years working in the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, with her most recent position being Chief Deputy Director. She has no medical background, and plans on approaching medical marijuana regulation similarly to alcohol and tobacco.

“…alcohol is a highly regulated product, so I think it is beneficial in setting up this structure for medical cannabis.”

Said Ajax.

She may be practical, but regulating a medicine like cannabis that has caused zero deaths in the same way as a substance that is killing more people than ever has already drawn criticism from medical marijuana advocates. Still, Russ Heimerich of the Department of Consumer Affairs made it clear that he wants an experienced government regulator, and one who doesn’t use marijuana. “We don’t want a stoner,” he said prior to hiring Ajax. “To a certain extent it will be the same as any other bureau,” Heimerich said. “It will really be a lot more routine that most people imagine. Except that you’re dealing with marijuana.”

Sean Donahoe, a marijuana industry and campaign consultant, detailed the realities of the job. “You’re going to have be trusted at the local level, trusted at the state level, trusted by law enforcement, and be able to help connect 17 different agencies who want to talk to each other. You’re going to have to get along with the industry, with the growers, and get along with the Legislature. Oh, and you’re going to have to deal with the federal government, which still considers the product to be regulated to be illegal,”

Donahoe said. “You’re going to have be a benevolent technocrat who can still sit cross-legged and kumbaya with multiple agencies.”

Still, California medical marijuana patients would probably prefer a government appointee familiar with the substance she’ll be regulating. When asked if she sees a value in medical marijuana, she responded,

“I’m not a user of marijuana so I am not familiar with how that affects people or what it does.” Part of her new job will be listening to first-hand accounts of patient’s experiences with marijuana.

“I have heard stories, of course. And through my meetings I’ve set up with industry groups and with legislators, I’ve heard stories of how it has helped folks with cancer.”

Perhaps Ajax’s next step will be looking into the research supporting medical marijuana’s benefits.

Feature photo credit: LA Times

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LA Lady

The LA Lady covers cannabis culture from Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @the_LAlady. Email tips to marie@massroots.com.

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