Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation chief says be patient

Lori Ajax, director of the new state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, addressed nearly 300 members of Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy organization hosting its sixth annual Citizen Lobby Day Monday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, just across L Street from the state Capitol in Sacramento.

The woman recently named by Gov. Jerry Brown to regulate the medical marijuana industry that is booming in Calaveras County and elsewhere in California this week told medical marijuana advocates to be patient.

“We’ve just started and there is a lot to do,” said Lori Ajax, director the state’s new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation. She spoke to nearly 300 members of Safe Access Now, a national medical marijuana advocacy organization that on Monday hosted its sixth annual Citizen Lobby Day for the California Legislature at the Sacramento Hyatt Regency Hotel, just across L Street from the state Capitol.

“I started about three months ago, in late February, and right now we have six employees,” Ajax said. “My head is spinning. But you all know what Jan. 1, 2018, is right?”

She referred to the date set by the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act for the bureau to begin issuing state licenses to cultivators and dispensaries. That licensing plan gives local governments including the one for Calaveras County leverage over marijuana growers. Unless growers can show they are in compliance with local government regulations, they can’t obtain the coveted state licenses.

Calaveras County officials just this month began registering growers under an urgency ordinance the board of supervisors adopted on May 10.

When regulations are complete, the BMMR will oversee almost every aspect of medical marijuana cultivation, testing, grading, transportation and dispensing. Cities and counties will remain free to make rules that are more stringent than the state’s, according to An-Chi Tsou, senior policy adviser to the bureau.

She said the BMMR is in the process of being created and that there are several phases to building the regulatory structure of a bureau. No licenses are being issued at this time. She told the group that those interested in the regulatory process should continue to work with city or county governments to secure local licenses.

In 2015, the legislature passed and the governor signed three bills, Assembly Bills 243 and 266, and Senate Bill 643, that created the BMMR. Ajax said her new agency operates under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

“And yes, we call it Bummer,” she smiled.

Tsou said a new website, bmmr.dca.ca.gov, will be used to seek responses from the public as regulations are proposed to fulfill the bureau’s responsibilities.

Those in the crowd wore a mixture of expensive suits and the casual, knit-cap-and-hoodie attire often seen at Calaveras County Board of Supervisors’ meetings when a cannabis issue is on the agenda.

No representatives of the Calaveras County cannabis industry were seen at the meeting. Representatives of the cannabis industry from Placer and El Dorado counties were present. Richard Miller is state director for the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis and lives in Placer County and Matt Vaughn and Gwen Woodward are dispensary operators from El Dorado County.

Miller was among several in the audience who complained that the bureau was not communicating with growers and dispensary owners and advising them how to work with local authorities and then the state.

“We finally got the police association in Placer County to agree with (Medical Marijuana Regulatory and Safety Act) but we are getting pushback from the local cities. What can you do to help us with that?” he asked.

Vaughn said his dispensary was “grandfathered” into compliance by the El Dorado County Planning Department and he remains in operation but he, too, was concerned about communicating the regulations to cities and counties.

“We are definitely working on outreach,” said Tsou. “Cities and counties are asking lots and lots of questions and we need organizations like yours to help with this.”

A check of the BMMR website Tuesday found that the agency has been holding informational meetings in communities including Oakland, Orange County, Sacramento and Los Angeles but appears to have no plans to visit Calaveras County or other areas in the Sierra Nevada.

Americans for Safe Access claims more than 100,000 members nationwide, including patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens.

The urgency ordinance recently adopted in Calaveras County set marijuana grower registration guidelines and enforcement responsibility for the Sheriff’s Office and county code enforcement officers.

Fees for commercial cultivation were set at $5,000 for each grower. Fees for personal cultivation are $100 per grower. The fee for a health care provider to an individual patient is $200.

Kristin Nevedal, Americans for Safe Access director of patient focused certification, said the Calaveras County fee structure did not seem too high.

Scott Sherwood, a health care provider from Siskiyou County who works with multiple patients, agreed. “That’s about what I’m paying per person as a provider to individuals. It sounds fair,” he said.

As of May 17, 10 commercial cultivators and one individual grower had registered with the Calaveras County Planning Department, according to Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer.

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