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Many Details Still In Flux For Legal, Commercial Cannabis In California

Capital Public Radio / File

Capital Public Radio / File

The state's lead marijuana regulator insists California will be ready to issue commercial cannabis licenses in January.

Multiple state agencies charged with regulating the new system are racing the clock to hammer out the actual mechanics of legalized cannabis.

Lori Ajax heads the newly re-named Bureau of Cannabis Control.

During an interview on Insight with Beth Ruyak, Ajax conceded many pieces of the legalized system are still in flux.

The state Department of Public Health is working on limits for THC levels in edibles. The California Department of Food and Agriculture recently chose a vendor to run the state's Track-and-Trace program.

Meanwhile, many cities and counties are still figuring how - or whether - to regulate and tax marijuana in their jurisdictions.

Ajax notes that many pieces of the complex framework are a work-in-progress. One significant issue that remains unresolved is a system for banking and tax collection for the state's commercial cannabis industry.

"It's difficult to regulate when everything is done by cash," points out Ajax.

Ajax serves on State Treasurer John Chiang's Cannabis Banking Working Group. She says the group is exploring various strategies to solve the problem.

Cara Martinson is Legislative Director with the California State Association of Counties, which advises counties on navigating the transition to commercial cannabis.

She says California is undertaking "a grand experiment" in regulating a whole new commodity. She's confident that most of the unknowns will evolve over time.

But when it comes to banking and tax collection, Martinson argues that evolution is happening much more slowly .

She predicts cash management will be a challenge come the first quarter of 2018 when the state starts collecting enormous amounts of taxes, in cash.

"(Marijuana) businesses do want to pay their taxes," says Martinson.

"But it's unrealistic to expect them to take a duffel bag full of cash and drive it hundreds of miles across the state."

A spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control says the agency is exploring options for opening a North state branch office to alleviate tax collection and transportation concerns in the North Coast region. 

Big picture, both Martinson and Ajax say California must find ways to assure financial institutions it's safe to bank the state's marijuana industry without breaking federal law.

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