Weed czar: ‘Things will improve’California’s Cannabis Control chief says state will overcome early growing pains
Reporter Brad Branan sits with Lori Ajax, the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control chief.
PHOTO BY NICOLE FOWLER
By Brad Branan
This article was published on 06.21.18.
A Republican who says she has never gotten high, Lori Ajax might seem like an odd choice to oversee California’s effort to make weed legal. But hard work and dedication to public service have earned praise for the state’s cannabis czar, even from people who are otherwise critical of California’s regulatory scheme.
“I care, and maybe to a fault, about making this work,” Ajax said during a recent interview with SN&R. “I’m cautiously optimistic it will work. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy.”
Ajax spoke during an interview at the Midtown Philz Coffee, right after a meeting with dispensary owner Phil Blurton, and before heading to the airport to fly to Los Angeles for more meetings. Such has been the pace since Ajax became the state’s chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control in 2016. She heads an agency with 65 employees, after previously working in the state’s alcohol regulatory agency.
Ajax spoke about lower-than-expected cannabis sales, testing requirements and other issues. She acknowledged that those issues have created doubt about the viability of legal cannabis, but added that she thinks the state will overcome them. Her comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
In the first three months of this year—the first quarter of legal weed sales in California—revenues were far below what the state expected. Why do you think this is happening?
It’s still early in the process. We have a lot of cities and counties without ordinances that would allow retail sales.
What about sales from unlicensed retailers? Aren’t they making a big dent in legal sales?
Yes. We’ve had a black market for a very long time in California. Eighty-five percent of the complaints we receive are about unlicensed activity. We started out by sending letters, educating people about the need for licenses. Now we are into the next phase. We have forwarded more than 200 cases for criminal investigation to the Department of Consumer Affairs [the bureau’s parent agency] investigative unit.
What about Weedmaps.com? Are they still allowing advertising of unlicensed retailers?
Yes. The investigation of Weedmaps continues.
Starting July 1, all retail weed must be tested by a certified lab for pesticides, mold and other things. How have retailers responded?
We’ve heard of a lot of places that are dramatically lowering prices to get rid of untested product. Otherwise, they have to destroy the cannabis.
California has 29 licensed testing facilities, most of them clustered in the Bay Area and Southern California. Is that enough to meet demand and keep tested product on the shelves?
I would like to see more than 29. I am more concerned about the lack of distribution of facilities across the state.
Cannabis industry officials are concerned about testing, taxes, regulations and a host of other things. You seem a little more optimistic. Why?
I think things will improve. The system has been running for five-and-a-half months. We are going to improve. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Things will become more settled when we approve final regulations later this year. More cities and counties will start to allow sales. The sunset provision for medical collectives will end in January, and that will help clear up some of the unlicensed activity.
Is it true that you’ve never smoked weed?
Yes. You have to understand that I worked in law enforcement in my last job and we couldn’t consume cannabis. One other thing—I am a square.
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In a state heavily invested in optimizing personal experience, cannabis offers a new path to sublime good health.By Dana Goodyear
Photography by Chad Pitman
By the time recreational marijuana usage became legal in California, on New Year’s Day, the government’s official permission seemed, for many Californians, like a belated, nearly irrelevant formality. Twenty-two years of ready access to medical marijuana had made casual consumption—a pull off a vape pen on the walk to dinner, post-prandial pot chocolates circulating in the living room, a THC strip tucked under the tongue—no more remarkable than an aperitif. Actually, less remarkable than a drink, because everyone knows that alcohol is bad for you (kills your stem cells, gives you cancer, makes you grouchy, paunchy, gray), whereas, increasingly, the industry is equating conscious marijuana use with sublime good health.
In the state of California, in recent years, hundreds of people—disproportionately people of color—have been arrested or jailed on marijuana-related charges. (Under a provision in the state's marijuana law, Prop 64, many may be able to have their sentences reduced or convictions overturned.) But among an affluent demographic of Californians—heavily invested in optimizing personal experience, micro-regulating moods and appetites, states of pain and creative flow—cannabis is part of a booming wellness industry. Gone are the purple bongs, sexy nurses, dancing bears. In place of these skanky, skunky holdovers is an array of alluring products whose seduction lies in their eminently rational design. Dosist, formerly Hmblt (motto: “delivering health and happiness”), has released a collection of disposable vape pens preloaded with marijuana concentrate (available individually or in a gift set) targeting different desired states: bliss, calm, relief, and so on. The pen itself, Cupertino white and tampon-esque, vibrates when its user has inhaled 2.25 milligrams of THC. Marijuana, in this new form, is a therapeutic aid in the life of an active, productive professional—like fish oil, with better dreams. The new consumer (or the old consumer, reimagined) is not zonked in a La-Z-Boy watching “Wayne’s World” with a bag of chips. She is making a vision board for the startup she’s launching, lightly high on a strain promising to connect her to her intuition without stimulating binge-eating.
Get the rest of this interesting story here.
The promoters of the annual Coachella music festival, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), recently announced that cannabis use would not be allowed at the event this April, even though recreational marijuana was legalized in California in 2016 and commercial sales began Jan. 1. The city of Indio, where the festival is held, has banned new pot businesses, but Coachella is on private property. So what gives?
The event’s promoter made the call. “NO Drugs or Drug Paraphernalia, Marijuana, Marijuana products will be allowed,” the Coachella website warns. That’s the rule for camping at Coachellaas well.
Anschutz’s History of Contributions to Antidrug GroupsWhile Coachella’s marijuana ban is standard festival policy, it’s not widely known that AEG founder Philip Anschutz’s private family foundation has donated thousands of dollars to antidrug groups over the last few years, including Kevin Sabet’s Sam Inc. (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and Smart Colorado.
Read more here
By Brooke Edwards Staggs
Posted on Jan 10, 2018
While the nation’s attorney general is calling for a crackdown on legal marijuana, a former California Attorney General is launching his own marijuana distribution business.
Bill Lockyer, who served as the Golden State’s top cop from 1999 to 2007, is co-founder of C4 Distro, a Newport Beach-based company that hopes to distribute cannabis between licensed retailers.
Lockyer has experience fighting Washington on the issue of legal marijuana. Now he’s among a small but growing group of people making the switch from government to the cannabis industry.
Lockyer’s partner in the venture is Eric Spitz, who was president and co-owner of the Orange County Register from 2012 until 2016, when the newspaper was purchased out of bankruptcy by Digital First Media.
C4 Distro is headquartered in Newport Beach, state records show, which has some of the strictest marijuana policies allowed under state law. But they don’t intend to operate there, with plans instead to distribute marijuana products initially in the Los Angeles area.
Distributors are the only entities legally allowed to transport marijuana between other licensed businesses. C4 Distro — the business name for Golden Systems LLC — plans to focus on picking up manufactured marijuana products, such as edibles and concentrates, and delivering them to shops that sell them to the public.
The company doesn’t appear to have one of the 151 licenses the state had issued as of Wednesday for recreational and medical marijuana distribution, according to the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s online database. C4 Distro officials declined interview requests, saying they plan to share details of their business later this month.
The company’s plans don’t seem to have slowed despite the cloud that’s been cast over the industry at the federal level.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance, on par with heroin.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been outspoken about his disdain for marijuana. And on Jan. 4, Sessions killed an Obama-era Department of Justice memo that offered some protection for marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state legalization programs.
Read more here.
By Conan Nolan
Published at 11:12 PM PST on Jan 7, 2018
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has asked to meet with the four U.S. Attorneys who prosecute federal law in the state to gauge weather or not they plan on enforcing federal marijuana laws.
"I've reached out to all four to sit down with them... because we'd like to know how each of the four will intend to move forward with this new policy from US DOJ."
Becerra was referring to a memo released last week from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicating his office would "enforce the law" when it comes to marijuana. Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy of not enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where voters had made it legal to consume, either for medical or recreational use.
California's chief law enforcement officer says the state would take legal action if needed to protect the will of the voters following passage of a 2016 ballot measure legalizing marijuana.
"I would encourage everyone in the state of California including the 400 people who have now gotten a license and registered to partake in our new industry to do it the right way... We are moving forward."
Becerra made the comments on NBC4 Sunday morning.
Read more here.
By Laura Jarrett, CNN
Updated 10:07 AM ET, Thu January 4, 2018
(CNN)In a seismic shift, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce Thursday that he is rescinding a trio of memos from the Obama administration that adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, according to a source with knowledge of the decision.
While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law.
Sessions: DOJ looking at 'rational' marijuana policy
The main Justice Department memo addressing the issue, known as the "Cole memo" for then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole in 2013, set forth new priorities for federal prosecutors operating in states where the drug had been legalized for medical or other adult use. It represented a major shift from strict enforcement to a more hands-off approach, so long as they didn't threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and cartels.The memo will be rescinded but it's not immediately clear whether Sessions will issue new guidance in its place or simply revert back to older policies that left states with legal uncertainty about enforcement of federal law.
The decision had been closely watched since Sessions was sworn in. He told reporters in November he was examining a "rational" policy.
Read more here.
Emily Alpert ReyesContact Reporter
California is days from allowing shops to sell recreational pot to paying customers, legalizing a hotly anticipated industry.
But Jerred Kiloh says that when the New Year rolls around, the doors of his medical marijuana dispensary might be closed, in order to avoid breaking the law.
“I’ve been fighting for this day forever,” said Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Assn. He operates a Sherman Oaks dispensary that has the tranquil vibe of a salon, with artwork of David Bowie and Buddha overlooking his budtenders, herbal tea set out for patients, and a Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce plaque on the wall.
“But I’d hate to thumb my nose at the state,” Kiloh said.
The messy and complicated details of marijuana legalization in California have left some Los Angeles pot businesses uneasy about how to follow the new law. To sell cannabis commercially starting in January — whether for medical or recreational use — a pot shop must have a state license. And to get a state license, it needs to have local approval.
Kiloh could get that very soon: Los Angeles is planning to start licensing pot retailers in the coming weeks. Existing shops that have been providing medical marijuana in line with an earlier set of city rules, approved by voters under Proposition D, are supposed to be first in line for those licenses and can start applying Wednesday.
And L.A. says those existing shops can avoid city prosecution while they are applying.
“Los Angeles will operate with flexibility while state and local laws synchronize,” Vanessa Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for City Council President Herb Wesson, said in a statement.
But some attorneys have warned that without an actual license in hand, it would still violate state law for such businesses to keep providing medical marijuana to patients in January.
So Kiloh says he might end up shutting the doors of his shop until he has gotten both city and state approval, a decision that he says could be “suicide.” He fears losing both employees and customers while his dispensary is closed.
Read more here.
Julie Weed , CONTRIBUTORI cover the legal marijuana industry and its entrepreneurs
California cannabis entrepreneurs will earn $5.2B in revenue in 2018 as recreational use becomes legal there. The state of California will collect about one billion dollars in accompanying marijuana taxes. These numbers, estimated by Matt Karnes, industry analyst and managing partner of New York's GreenWave Advisors, point to the giant need for banking and financial services in the nascent legal cannabis industry. These services however are generally not available says Karnes, and are federally illegal. Some glimmers of change though, are on the horizon.
Banking is severely limited for cannabis industry businesses. As a “schedule one” substance, cannabis is categorized to be as harmful as heroin and banks risk losing their federal charter if they work with cannabis companies. Financial institutions need to go on record with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) when they establish a relationship with a known Marijuana Related Business, and Karnes estimates that just 5% of all banks have done that. He believes that fewer than 1% of all banks in the United States are currently working with cannabis related companies.
Some technology start-ups like Shield Compliance in Illinois are offering software to help banks with compliance, financial transparency and record-keeping to reduce the risk of working in the industry but they haven't made significant inroads yet.
This leaves many marijuana businesses to have no choice but to operate in cash, so they need to spend extra money on safes, video camera systems, security guards, and armored car pick-ups. Public safety issues can also arise when so much cash is stored in known locations said Karnes.
With limited options, some businesses turn to other methods to find banking. Many hide the nature of their business from their banks according to Karnes. Others turn to cryptocurrencies, which have their own sets of problems. Cryptocurrencies have a “questionable ability to pass regulatory scrutiny,” because they are so complex, said Karnes. Their lack of transparency also “remains a major stumbling block.” They also tend to fluctuate in value, so are much less stable than regular currency.
Despite the complexities, the industry in California is hiring. Vangst, a recruitment firm specializing in the cannabis space, says the number of people working full time in legal cannabis grew from 43,374 people in January to 47,711 in September.
Read more here.
The federal government should stop blocking research into the drug’s medical potential.
By Richard Boxer
Nov. 19, 2017 1:23 p.m. ET
Jennifer, a 37-year-old Virginia school teacher now unable to work due to unrelenting pain caused by a genetic spinal disease, stared hopelessly at the bottle of opioids her doctor had prescribed her. Beset by desperation discomfort, she faced a difficult choice. The opioids would provide limited relief but came with a high risk of addiction. Or she could try marijuana, which would likely be safer but put her on the wrong side of the law.
Jennifer chose marijuana. She drove to Washington, D.C., where the drug is sold legally, and visited three medical marijuana storefronts offering ridiculously named products like “Kush,” “Diesel” and “Head Trip.” While the offerings were of unknown concentrations and efficacy for her pain, they worked to a greater degree and with fewer side effects than any previous medication Jennifer had tried. Her experience (she is the daughter of a patient in Los Angeles, where I practice) inspired me to advocate for further research into clinical uses of the drug for pain relief.
For the most part, doctors and patients rely on anecdotal information when deciding on a treatment path involving cannabinoids. No rigorous scientific studies have been published that corroborate claims about marijuana’s medical benefits when prescribed and used properly. The federal government should remove the drug from Schedule I of the Federal Controlled Substances Act so researchers can lawfully assess its medical potential.
In September, Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced a bill “to improve the process for conducting scientific research on marijuana as a safe and effective medical treatment.” The Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 has bipartisan support. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana,” Sen. Hatch said in a press release.
Any research on medical marijuana must first assess the potential for addiction to other, harder drugs. The notion that marijuana is a “gateway” is so far unsupported. “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs,” wrote researchers for the Institute of Medicine in 1999. Still, the idea lives on, underscoring the need for real research.
Not only is marijuana a potentially effective pain treatment, it may also help alleviate the opioid crisis. States that have legalized medical marijuana enjoy significantly lower levels of opioid consumption and overdose deaths than states that continue to penalize possession and use, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association: “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate . . . compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that hospitalization rates of people suffering from painkiller abuse and addiction dropped 23% and overdoses requiring hospitalization fell 13% in places where medical marijuana was made legal. And a recent study found that Colorado, which legalized the drug for recreational use in 2014, experienced a 6.5% reduction in opioid-related deaths.
Last year alone, more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. Recognizing the link between decriminalizing marijuana and reducing opioid overdoses could save thousands of lives. With 650,000 prescriptions for opioids filled each day (3,900 for new patients) the epidemic seems likely to continue. Although scientific proof is no guarantee of an end to partisan squabbling, evidence-based medical data may offer hope for a consensus about the effectiveness of cannabis in the alleviation of human suffering.
Jennifer is not a criminal. She uses marijuana to relieve her debilitating pain because it is effective, non-addictive and almost impossible to overdose on. By preventing essential research on the medical uses of the drug, the federal government forces Jennifer, and thousands like her, into an impossible position.
Dr. Richard Boxer is a clinical professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and medical adviser to iAnthus Capital Management, which invests in the cannabis industry.
by Susan Soares
Shocking headlines are click bait but fudging the numbers in the war on drugs is more insidious than that. Take for example the article in Herald and News By STEPHEN FLOYD "$375 million in cannabis seized by Siskiyou in 2017". Floyd reports: YREKA — The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has reported seizing more than $375 million in illegal cannabis so far this year, with additional marijuana raids expected this week.
In a news release Monday, the sheriff’s office said 27,072 cannabis plants and 12,570 pounds of processed marijuana have been seized during 2017 by the Siskiyou Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team (SIMIT).
The plants totaled $324.8 million and the processed marijuana $50.2 million, based on values within the illegal cannabis market.
Let's look at those numbers. $324.8M divided by 27,072 plants equals $11,997.64 per plant. Outdoor cannabis is going for less than $1200 a pound these days but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say each pound goes for $1500. That means they are saying that each and every plant had 8 pounds of sellable, cured, and top shelf cannabis on it. Wow!! Now let's look at the processed "marijuana". $50.2M divided by 12,570 pounds is nearly $4000 a pound. Those numbers just don't work out.
Inflating the value of a cannabis bust is a deliberate move for law enforcement's public relations and also to earn federal government grants. The bigger the bust appears is incentive because it results in more promotions and grant money for the local cops.
At this time in history where cannabis for adult use is about to be regulated and law enforcement in general is having the biggest PR crisis in history, it is counter intuitive that they would use this tactic. Please write to the reporter and ask him to fact check Siskiyou law enforcement's numbers.
Susan Soares has written for Cannabis Now Magazine, Alternet, and Sensi Magazine.