Proposition 215, the voter initiative that legalized medical cannabis in California for the treatment of—among myriad other conditions for which cannabis is a proven healer—cancer, glaucoma, chronic aches and pains, migraine and AIDS, will have its 20th anniversary later this year. Yet despite the fact that if medical cannabis in the Golden State was a person, she would be a junior at Berkeley, the state didn’t feel the need to give her a guardian until this week. (Yes, medical cannabis is a woman. Any amateur horticulturalist can back me up. Don’t dispute me. If, however, you think she might be studying theater at SF State or something, then I will listen to what you have to say.)
On October 9, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of bills, each sharing a similar purpose: to regulate and govern the decades-old medical marijuana business in his state. These regulations were meant to satisfy the complaints of growers, dispensary owners, patients and law enforcement alike with regard to questions like shipping, packaging, taxes, quality of product and pesticide use, and had been called for since the passing of Proposition 215. As of last October, they are the responsibility of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, which falls under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. And as of February 4, 2016, that bureau is the responsibility of Lori Ajax, the former chief deputy director of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control whose new job title, “Czar” of the bureau, matches the gravity of her Homerian name. Why a country founded in opposition to monarchy insists on naming its officials after despots is a topic for another article.
As Czar, Ajax will be tasked with the large-scale implementation of the rules of the medical cannabis game, from regulation of pesticide use on crops to issuing grow licenses and ensuring environmental protection. While her appointment is the culmination of years of advocacy by pro-cannabis groups for a unique government bureau—outside the auspices of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage control—it also left a sour taste in some pro-cannabis mouths. Ajax, 50, is a 21-year veteran of various positions at the ABC, so while advocates of legal cannabis loathe to criticize the efforts of their state to differentiate cannabis from alcohol by inaugurating the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, her past has caused some concern. Some feel that medical cannabis, necessary as it is for the health of myriad Californians, should be treated as an issue of health rather than vice and Ajax’s appointment is a signal that the state feels the opposite. Only time will tell Ajax’s outlook on her new responsibilities: Will she continue along the path more than two decades in alcohol enforcement has cleared for her, or evolve to fit her new role as a medical “Czar?”