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6 new things we learned from California’s cannabis czar

SAN FRANCISCO — Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, talked to the Bay Area News Group on Friday at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco.

We wanted to find out what’s up with the state’s law legalizing recreational marijuana. Here are the most interesting things we learned:

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

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

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,” she said. “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.”

But if you have a medical marijuana card, relax: It’s business-as-usual. Under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, if you have a local permit you are allowed to continue cultivation and dispensing — 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.

And because there will be limits to the number of “Type 3” licenses — which will allows licensees to grow up to one acre outdoors — you’ll need to hurry to make sure 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 lessons 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, she noted.

“At the end of the day, we’ve had a cannabis industry for two decades,” she said. “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, or MCRSA) and one for recreational adult use (created by Proposition 64’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or AUMA.)

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,” she said. “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.”

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

Early April for the medical marijuana regs, she said. Then the public can chime in during a 45-day public comment period (which will include hearings) before the final regs are released.

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

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

“We don’t know. We are going to focus on what we 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.”