MJBizMag September 2022 - 12

FIVE QUESTIONS with Michelle Garakian
L.A. Confidential
Los Angeles' newest marijuana czar explains problems shutting down
illicit operators and agency's plans to relieve licensing bottlenecks
By Chris Casacchia
S
hortly after Michelle Garakian
replaced Cat Packer in March
as Los Angeles' marijuana
czar, the city invoked mandatory
timelines to process and approve
cannabis business applications and
licenses.
Unclogging that bottleneck is
among Garakian's top priorities.
In particular, she aims to remove
bureaucratic red tape as well as
better communicate with and help
operators and applicants in one
of the world's largest regulated
marijuana markets.
Garakian, a longtime insider at
the L.A. Department of Cannabis
Regulation (DCR) and former aide
to Mayor Eric Garcetti, spoke with
MJBizMagazine for a wide-ranging
discussion about marijuana policy,
new department initiatives and the
push to transfer thousands of temporary
permits into annual licenses.
What should stakeholders
know about the new social
equity verification process?
The verification rules have changed.
The (City) Council made a
concerted decision to narrow the
criteria because they wanted to
ensure the folks getting into this
process were the folks that were
really dealing with the impacts of
the war on drugs.
You have to have a cannabis
conviction or arrest and either live
in a disproportionately impacted
area or prove (you're) low income.
If (you're) low income, we're not
using not using ZIP codes anymore;
12 September 2022 | MJBizMagazine
Michelle
Garakian
all these big departments started
hiring and everybody has vacancies.
So it's mega-competitive.
(There will be) a lot of positions
in the licensing sector. That's where
we need the capacity.
A few positions in the social
equity group. A few positions for our
communications and policy staff.
And we're bringing in more highlevel
management, so a lot of the
policy work isn't so concentrated at
executive level.
we're using police reporting
districts.
This is really narrowing it down
to where the most cannabis
convictions or cannabis arrests have
taken place.
Since this process opened May 26,
we've received 300 to 350
applications.
(After the verification window
closed on) July 25, the department
has at least 90 days to process
those requests.
Have you started ramping up
staff to meet new application
deadlines?
We were allocated 21 new positions.
Our department is doing interviews
multiple times a week.
I was sitting on a panel of interviews,
and we interviewed almost
17 people on two different days.
We are trying to onboard people
as much as possible.
There was a hiring freeze for two
years, and when that was lifted,
What other new initiatives are
on the way from the DCR?
We're trying to manage our email
accounts better. We instituted a
new process so people are getting
a 48- to 72-hour turnaround on
their emails.
We've implemented a system
where phone calls are being picked
up faster and we're tracking how
many calls we're getting.
Trying to focus our department to
run more like a business.
I'm trying to track these
benchmarks because I want to see
if things are improving quarter to
quarter.
When I first (was promoted) in
March, I asked my assistant to
set up 25 different stakeholder
meetings and just talk with a
variety of stakeholders: " What are
your challenges? What are your
issues? Send me three top things
you'd like to see get done. "
Some of those things we've
actually done. I'm listening, and I'm
trying to be as receptive as possible.

MJBizMag September 2022

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