California’s First Medical Marijuana Chief to Create New State Agency, IT Systems

California has its first weed czar — otherwise known as chief of its Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation — and it’s a Republican, Lori Ajax, who is now chief deputy director of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

If Ajax, 50, is approved, she will get the rare opportunity in Sacramento to create a state agency. The marijuana czar will hire 40 to 50 people, whose salary would be paid for with the stream of new cannabis licensing fees created by California’s recently passed medical marijuana law.

But much of the job will involve the routine of administration, such as creating information technology systems and crafting regulation policy.

Steve DeAngelo, owner of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, which is California’s largest medical cannabis dispensary, was “cautiously optimistic” Thursday. He was impressed that Ajax led a delegation to visit Harborside in April 2014.

“For me, that’s reassuring because it showed me that she has an interest in learning about the industry,” DeAngelo said. “And she’s a woman, which is great, because the cannabis industry needs some more diversity.”

Others in the business had asked Brown to appoint someone with no ties to the cannabis industry who would be able to navigate state bureaucracy.

“Lori comes to us as a relative unknown, which is a good thing from our perspective,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association.

Ajax has been chief deputy director at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control since she was appointed 2014. She had previously served in several positions in the department since 1995.

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