California’s Cannabis Regulators Are Understaffed and Struggling, State Audit Says
As the Golden State cannabis market continues to evolve, a Department of Finance report has harsh words for the team in charge of operating the industry.
Published on July 18, 2019

California’s legal cannabis woes continue to pile up, with a newly-released audit from the state Department of Finance painting a dire picture of the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the agency tasked with regulating and overseeing the burgeoning industry. 

Completed in January of this year, and published early this month, the Bureau of Cannabis Control California Department of Consumer Affairs Performance Audit detailed significant understaffing issues across the Bureau, lenient enforcement efforts, and millions in predicted revenue gone unfulfilled.

“The current status and location of personnel is not sustainable to provide effective and comprehensive oversight of cannabis activities throughout California,” the audit detailed. 

At the time of writing, the BCC had filled only 75 of its 219 authorized positions, including only 15 of 68 available regulatory enforcement roles. Responding to the audit statistics, BCC spokesman Alex Travaso told Marijuana Business Daily that the agency had hired 12 new employees in the six months since the report concluded, but that increase still leaves 132 open jobs.

Since the BCC has only existed for three years, Travaso and agency chief Lori Ajax were originally confident in their efforts and ability to grow alongside the state’s constantly shifting cannabis industry, despite early hiccups. Likewise, Christopher Shultz, Chief Deputy Director of State Consumer Affairs, wrote a letter expressing support for the BCC after the harsh report was published. 

“The Bureau’s management strategy has been, and continues to be, to meet its constantly changing statutory mandates,” Shultz said, noting that the BCC’s responsibilities and specific authority “have changed significantly multiple times each year the Bureau has been in existence.”

And when it comes to the audit’s claims about lenient responses to reports of rule breaking, Ajax and Travaso were adamant that the report was misleading. They noted that it did not include statistics from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Department of Investigations (DOI), where all reports of unlicensed cannabis activity are sent. And if California’s recent raids on black market grow sites are any indication, the Golden State is not lacking on marijuana enforcement.

“Close to 80% of our complaints are on unlicensed [operators] and get referred to the [DOI], but they didn’t look into that or how effective that is... so it was just on one portion of enforcement,” Ajax said.

In the audit, the authors note that the BCC had a backlog of more than 2,448 uninvestigated complaints, but in the agency’s most recent statistics, Travaso told MJBiz Daily that the agency had only 245 open complaints.

At the end of the day, it is clear that the BCC has more work to do. But with only a few years of work under the agency’s belt in bringing the world’s largest marijuana marketplace from out of the underground, it is unrealistic to expect success without a few growing pains.

“The biggest takeaway,” BCC chief Ajax said, “is how much work got done, how we constantly — even though the priorities may have changed and the statute may have changed — we still got the job done.” 

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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