California’s Top Cannabis Regulator

LOS ANGELES — California’s legal pot market opens for business on Jan. 1. The day will be a milestone, but what exactly will happen then and, especially, in the weeks and months to come is unclear.

Lori Ajax is the state’s top pot regulator and has been at the center of the effort to establish rules for a legal pot economy valued at $7 billion. Here are her thoughts on what to expect.


Q. It’s a question many people are asking: Can I buy legal pot on Jan. 1?

A. Well, maybe.

“You will, in certain areas of the state,” Ajax says.

Businesses are required to have a local permit and a state license to open their doors for recreational sales, and that process has moved slowly.

So far, there is not a consistent pattern in the geography of legal pot.

Kern County, for example, has banned all commercial cannabis activity. But Oakland, Santa Cruz, Shasta Lake and San Diego are among the cities that have embraced it and have licensed operators that will open Jan. 1.

San Francisco is running late getting licenses out, so legal sales there are not expected to start until later that week. In Los Angeles, the city will begin accepting applications to sell recreational pot on Jan. 3, but it could be weeks before any of those shops open for legal sales.

Q. If you can get legal pot on Jan. 1, where can you smoke it?

A. First rule, not in public, Ajax says.

Another general guideline: Don’t smoke anywhere where tobacco is prohibited.

State law has specific guidelines for where not to light up, and they include being within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of a school or a daycare center when kids are around, or smoking while driving.

However, the state has left it up to local governments to determine if they want to permit onsite consumption at retailers. So it will be city-by-city whether you can buy and light up on the spot.

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