MJBizMag January 2021 - 68

IndustryPlayers | New Hires & Promotions
By Omar Sacirbey
A look at some recent
hiring moves in the
marijuana industry
New Jersey Names Top Regulator
D
ianna Houenou was already
acquainted with marijuana
legalization issues when New
Jersey Gov. Tim Murphy asked her
to chair the state's new Cannabis
Regulatory Commission (CRC).
As policy counsel with the
American Civil Liberties Union of
New Jersey, Houenou developed
legislative strategies and led
advocacy efforts for marijuana
legalization. In March 2019, she joined Murphy's
office, serving as senior policy adviser and associate
counsel, advising Murphy on matters such as
cannabis, criminal justice, military and veterans,
community affairs and immigrants' rights.
Nevertheless, when Murphy asked Houenou
to take New Jersey's top cannabis job, she was
surprised and initially said she needed time to
consider how she could work to advance social and
racial justice issues in that role.
" I took (the job) because it's a unique chance
to help build this industry in a way that's inclusive
and that will help people who have been hurt most
by the war on drugs to participate in this industry, "
Houenou said.
Houenou plans to leverage her ACLU experience
to facilitate communication between the CRC and
communities, and she believes her experience in
Murphy's administration will help her to navigate
New Jersey's governmental bureaucracy and
coordinate with the state's cannabis industry and
other stakeholders.
That said, Houenou acknowledges that she's
still learning about the industry and
challenges faced by businesses-as
well as learning about cannabis
regulations.
" Regulations can be dense, "
Houenou said. " I'm brushing up on
regulations from other jurisdictions. "
She added that she also is learning
from networks of cannabis regulators
around the country.
Houenou's priorities as CRC chair
include equity and maintaining patient access. " My
hope is that we can, in the first formative years of
the program, put ourselves on a path where the
Commission will be able to promote inclusivity in
the market and reinvestment in Black and brown
communities harmed by the drug war. "
Houenou also will benefit from her existing
relationship with Jeff Brown, who, as assistant
commissioner at the New Jersey Department
of Health, oversaw the Division of Medicinal
Marijuana. Brown was appointed executive director
of the CRC. As head of New Jersey's marijuana
division, Brown helped increase the number of
enrolled patients from 17,000 to more than 95,000
and more than doubled the state's number of
participating physicians and dispensaries.
Murphy also appointed Krista Nash as a member
of the CRC upon the recommendation of Senate
President Steve Sweeney. Nash previously served
as program director of the PROMISE program at
Volunteers of America Delaware Valley and as a
mentor at Oaks Integrate Care and Transitions
for Youth.
California's Top MJ Regulator
Moves Into Craft Beer
Lori Ajax retired from her post as head
of the California Bureau of Cannabis
Control after five years in a role in
which she oversaw the rollout of the
state's marijuana regulatory system.
Ajax's resignation was effective Dec. 2,
and shortly later she was appointed
executive director of the California
Craft Brewers Association. She begins
that role Jan. 4.
Ajax was chosen in February
2016 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown
to oversee the state's Bureau of
Medical Marijuana Regulation. Her
appointment came only a few months
after legislators approved the first
statewide regulatory system for
California's MMJ industry in fall 2015.
Ajax remained chief of the agency
after its name was changed to the
Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC)
after the 2016 election, when voters
68 Marijuana Business Magazine | January 2021
approved recreational legalization,
and then oversaw the rollout of the
state's legal marketplace in January
2018. She was retained by Gov.
Gavin Newsom after he took office in
January 2019.
Her replacement is Tamara Colson, the
BCC's current assistant chief counsel,
who will serve as acting bureau chief.
The BCC will merge with two other
state agencies that oversee the
California cannabis industry. The new
Dianna Houenou

MJBizMag January 2021

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