Outgoing California 'Cannabis Czar' Selected to Lead State's Craft Brewers Association

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Lori Ajax, the outgoing chief of California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), has been named the new executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA).

The Dec. 4 announcement comes about two weeks after Marijuana Business Daily confirmed that Ajax would step down from the BCC on Dec. 2, 2020.

Outgoing CCBA director Tom McCormick, who oversaw the largest state trade association for craft breweries in the U.S., is retiring after 15 years at the helm of the organization.

During her nearly five years as head of the BCC, Ajax oversaw the transition from a medical to adult-use cannabis market, the implementation of consumer safety protections, and a crackdown on California’s illicit market.

She was initially tapped to lead California’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation in early 2016 by then-Governor Jerry Brown. She remained in the role when the agency became the BCC following the 2016 election and the passage of Proposition 64 — the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) — and was retained by Gov. Gavin Newsom when took office at the beginning of 2019.

During a recent interview with Marijuana Business Daily, Ajax said it was difficult to depart the BCC but felt like it was the appropriate time to let someone else take over.

That someone, at least for the time being, is Tamara Colson, who previously served as assistant chief counsel and took over as acting Bureau chief on Dec. 3.

In a statement, the BCC said Colson’s “knowledge of cannabis issues and experience with the Bureau” would be critical ahead of a planned combination of three California regulatory agencies that oversee the marijuana sector. In 2021, the BCC will merge with the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health to form the Department of Cannabis Control.

Speaking to Marijuana Business Daily, Alex Traveso, a spokesman with the BCC, said Ajax’s replacement would have “huge shoes to fill.”

Prior to being appointed California’s so-called “cannabis czar,” Ajax spent 22 years with the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), where she worked her way up to chief deputy director.

California is currently home to 1,039 craft breweries. In 2018, California breweries collectively employed more than 61,000 people and contributed more than $9 billion to the California economy.

Ajax, who will take over for McCormick on January 4, 2021, said she is excited to return to the alcohol business after more than 25 years of public service.

“I am honored to work with the members and staff of CCBA and look forward to continuing the legacy that my predecessor established during his incredible tenure,” Ajax said via a news release.

Her forthcoming arrival at the CCBA comes at a crucial time for breweries across the state, many of which have been forced to cease on-site service at their taprooms amid spiking coronavirus cases.

According to beer industry trade publication Brewbound, the CCBA has had to shift its lobbying strategy as a result of the pandemic in a bid to convince public health officials and lawmakers that breweries remain open for manufacturing and to-go sales.

The CCBA is currently considering taking legal action on behalf of its members that rely heavily on revenue from beers sold across the bar.


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