Longtime California cannabis czar Lori Ajax is stepping down

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After nearly five years of overseeing the rollout of California’s statewide marijuana regulatory system, Lori Ajax is retiring.

Alex Traverso, spokesman for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, confirmed Ajax’s resignation on Friday to Marijuana Business Daily.

Ajax informed the agency’s staff this past week of her departure, he said.

“She didn’t really give a reason other than just it feels like it’s time. Her husband retired a year or so ago. I think it just made sense,” Traverso said.

Ajax’s resignation will be effective Dec. 2, Traverso said.

Ajax was appointed in February 2016 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to initially oversee the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

Her appointment came only a few months after legislators approved the first statewide regulatory system for California’s MMJ industry in the fall of 2015.

Ajax remained chief of the agency after its name was changed to the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) after the 2016 election when voters approved recreational legalization and then oversaw the rollout of the state’s legal marketplace in January 2018.

She was retained by Gov. Gavin Newsom after he took office in January 2019.

Through her years of work, Ajax developed a reputation among many in the industry for her outreach to marijuana companies and her common appearances at business events to answer questions about state regulations and other issues – particularly from frustrated MJ company owners who were dealing with a painful transition into the regulated marketplace.

Traverso likened Ajax to “the baseball player who stays and signs autographs until everyone’s gone.”

He also noted that whoever takes over the job of running the BCC will have “huge shoes to fill.”

“She definitely did whatever she could to be accessible, to hear people, empathize with people. Whatever it took,” Traverso said.

“She was here every day for like 12 hours a day working, and that set the tone for everyone else.”

Traverso said it’s unclear whether Newsom will appoint an interim director to run the BCC.

That uncertainty stems, in part, from the BCC’s impending merger in 2021 with the other two state regulatory agencies that oversee the California cannabis industry. The new agency will be called the Department of Cannabis Control.

On Friday, several members of the Newsom administration praised Ajax’s work.

Lourdes Castro Ramirez, the secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency – of which the BCC is part – said in an emailed statement that Ajax “rose to an immense challenge” as the state’s first-ever cannabis czar.

“Her leadership and skill have earned the respect of local governments, law enforcement, and the cannabis industry, who haven’t always seen eye to eye. Thanks to her efforts, California is now a model for other states and nations as they begin to legalize cannabis,” Ramirez said.

And Nicole Elliott, Newsom’s senior adviser on cannabis in the Office of Business and Economic Development, praised Ajax’s “leadership and vision” in a Twitter post.

“Throughout her time leading the BCC she has steered CA’s efforts w/ ingenuity, flexibility & understanding. I join the many others across the state who are deeply grateful for her service,” Elliott wrote.

– John Schroyer