Lori Ajax, chief of California's Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, poses in the bureau's office in Sacramento, California, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.
Lori Ajax, chief of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, poses in the bureau’s office in Sacramento, California, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

SACRAMENTO—California’s chief marijuana regulator on Thursday told a gathering of growers, government officials and would-be entrepreneurs that the state will have a regulatory structure in place to oversee a developing multibillion-dollar cannabis market by Jan. 1.

Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, said state agencies will rely on a system of temporary licenses and grace periods to ensure commercial sales of recreational marijuana can start in compliance with the voter-approved Proposition 64.

“Make no mistake, this is a huge challenge for us,” Ajax told attendees of a marijuana conference in Sacramento organized by Capitol Weekly. “But we’ve looked at it and we think we’ve figured it out and we’ve strategized.”

Over the last three weeks, the state has proposed regulations for the testing, growing and manufacturing of medical cannabis. A different set of rules for recreational marijuana is expected in the fall.

All of the proposals are likely to be withdrawn eventually as the governor works with lawmakers on legislation that would meld the rules for both the medical and recreational markets, Ajax said.

“And I’m sure you’re [asking] well, why would we want to comment on regulations that are going to be withdrawn?” Ajax said. “Most of what we have in [the draft regulations] will be used in whatever we come out with next, with the alignment.” She added: “That’s why it’s important that we get those comments on the front end.”

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The final rules are likely to be issued as emergency regulations that will allow the bureau to act outside of the usual administrative timelines.

The bureau is also expected to grant provisional licenses to marijuana testing laboratories as they wait for certification from the International Organization for Standardization. Dispensaries still waiting for a certified lab will need to label products as untested under state specifications. Temporary licenses will likely be issued to sellers while the state completes its regulatory structure and catches up on processing applications.

“We don’t want everything to come to a screeching halt when we start issuing licenses,” Ajax said. “We want to make sure that supply chain still flows.”