State has first medical marijuana czar

Feb 5, 2016

California has it's first chief regulator of medical marijuana. It may sound odd to have "marijuana official" on your résumé, but, hey, this is the 21st century.


From the Bee's Alexei Koseff: "On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the appointment of Lori Ajax, currently the chief deputy director of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, to the newly-created post overseeing the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation in the Department of Consumer Affairs."


"The bureau was created through legislation last year, nearly two decades after California 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 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 managed licensing and enforcement operations for 20 counties in Northern California. She is a Republican."

Facing a major liability in the teachers' pension system, the governor and lawmakers crafted a long-term fix. But things are not working out like they thought.


From Daniel Borenstein in the Contra Costa Times: "Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through a 32-year plan to shore up the California State Teachers' Retirement System."


"He said the state, school districts and teachers would share responsibility to "fully fund" the $74 billion shortfall of the nation's second largest pension system."


"But it may not work out that way. The state Legislative Analyst's Office says the "abstract" calculation CalSTRS uses to implement the deal produces unexpected results.

"It could shift a greater-than-expected portion of the burden for paying off the debt to school districts; makes the state share highly vulnerable to market volatility; and leaves a good chance that the state will pay no more than it would have before the deal was struck."


One of the constants in state government is the battle over IT projects, and the latest is  the flawed program at the state controller's office handling payroll. Controller Betty Yee has asked for $4.8 million to cover a legal battle over the system through the end of the year, and some $156 million is at stake.


From the Bee's Jon Ortiz: "That’s on top of $6.8 million spent on litigation during the last six months of 2015. The project, MyCalPays, was suspended in February 2013..."


"Then-Controller John Chiang axed the project three years ago after an eight-month test run fouled up 1,300 state employees’ pay in a variety of ways: wage underpayments and overpayments, employee-insurance and pension deduction errors and missed child-support payments."


"Yee inherited the battle when she took office last year. Controller’s Office spokeswoman Taryn Kinney said that if the state wins, SAP will have to pay 1 1/2 times the contract amount, or about $156 million." 

The dispute over the future of Charles Lester, the executive director of the California Coastal Commission, will come to a head next week, when the commission is scheduled to discuss whether to fire him.

Capitol Weekly's Alex Matthews takes a comprehensive look at the issue.

"For those attempting to oust Lester, the hearing is a referendum on his job performance. For the environmentalists who follow the commission, it’s a coup and an attempt to seize the upper hand in the power struggle between pro-development interests and a staff that they believe has appropriately enforced the Coastal Act in the Douglas tradition."

"Brown’s environmental legacy is at stake as well, in part because his office remains silent on the controversy that has erupted around the hearing. When Brown resumed office in 2011, the same year Douglas passed the baton to Lester, he appointed two new commissioners. Some of Brown’s appointees have not been popular among environmentalists."

“The governor appointed some truly toxic commissioners,” contends Blank, who himself stirred controversy for building a mansion and other structures on his property in the coastal zone. Blank was appointed by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger."


Those residents near the Aliso Canyon gas leak who were forced out of their homes may finally be getting some good news -- the leak may be capped soon.


From Matt Hamilton in the LAT: "State official said Thursday that under the most favorable circumstances, the damaged well that has spewed environmentally damaging natural gas from a storage facility near Porter Ranch could be capped as early as the end of next week."


"But the timeline, he cautioned, was fraught with variables."


"Wade Crowfoot, a senior advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown, told those at a public meeting at Cal State Northridge that the relief well that is still being drilled was tentatively expected to intercept the leaking well as early as Monday."


And our award to the person who had the worst week in California, #WorstWeekinCA, goes to California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, who is being sued in federal court for allegedly using her office for political purposes.


"A former aide to California Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez has sued the lawmaker in federal court, claiming that Sanchez and some top staffers improperly used official resources for campaign and personal uses and then retaliated by firing the aide following her complaints about the alleged improper practices.

"Kara Medrano, who was reportedly fired in Feb. 2015 after allegedly contacting the Ethics Committee, is seeking $2.5 million in damages and her job back..."


"Sanchez, through a spokesman, said Medrano's claims were "baseless allegations."


Wow: Contacting the ethics committee, a panel on which her boss has a ranking position. That took guts...


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