California has found its czar for medical marijuana.
On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the appointment of Lori Ajax, the chief deputy director of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, to a newly created post overseeing the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.
The bureau was conceived last year, nearly two decades after state voters legalized medical marijuana, to develop comprehensive rules for the industry, from licensing pot growers to crafting environmental protections.
Ajax, 50, of Fair Oaks, has worked in various positions at the ABC, which enforces liquor laws and manages the licensing process, since 1995. After studying criminal justice at Sacramento State and working in private industry for 10 years, Ajax began her career at the agency as an investigator in the Santa Rosa district office and later supervised operations for 20 counties in Northern California. She is a Republican.
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The position, which commands a $150,636 salary, requires state Senate confirmation.
Ajax was not available for comment. Lawmakers behind the bills that created the medical marijuana bureau said they looked forward to working with her to craft rules that serve everyone in the industry.
“It’s important to note that we’re coming out of prohibition and it’s going to take years to dig out of the mess that we’re in now,” Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said.
There is irony in Brown’s appointment.
Medical marijuana advocates last year successfully pushed for the new bureau rather than placing regulatory authority in the hands of the ABC. But on Thursday, they mostly embraced the selection of Ajax.
“Our members want to see a functioning bureau as soon as possible,” Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said in a statement. “We are encouraged by Lori’s experience with state bureaucracy and familiarity with rural counties.”
Lanette Davies, a director of Canna Care in Sacramento, called the appointment “awesome.”
“It’s not ABC taking over. It’s someone with experience taking over,” she said. “This is a policymaker. I expect to see a bunch of policies. ... I just don’t want my medicine being treated like alcohol.”