California pot regulators struggling with job, audit says


FILE – This Sept. 11, 2018, file photo shows cannabis plants growing at a greenhouse at SLOgrown Genetics in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. California auditors have found that the agency overseeing the state’s vast legal marijuana market is understaffed and struggling to do the job. A Finance Department audit in early July 2019 finds that about two-thirds of the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s authorized positions remain unfilled. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The agency overseeing California’s legal marijuana market has been overmatched by the job and is struggling to hire sufficient staff and set an overall strategy, an audit found.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control is authorized to hire 219 people, but only 75 positions have been filled, according to an audit by the state Finance Department.

While the cannabis bureau is in its relative infancy and has established a foundation to oversee the market, “the current status and location of personnel is not sustainable to provide effective and comprehensive oversight of cannabis activities throughout California,” auditors said.

“The bureau does not have a comprehensive management strategy … that identifies mission critical activities aligned with workload and available resources,” said the audit, which was released earlier this month.

The problems outlined in the audit provide a backstory to the uneven rollout of the state’s legal pot market, which is still competing with thriving underground sales. Legal cannabis is being sold around California, though it’s unavailable in many areas because local governments have banned sales or not set up rules for the market to operate.

In a lengthy response, the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the cannabis bureau, said the agency faced a rigid deadline to adopt regulations and begin issuing licenses by Jan. 1, 2018.

Regulators hit that target, but the agency acknowledged it faced a maze of shifting legislation and related requirements, including hiring staff, conducting studies, finding office space, entering into contracts for basic equipment and services, designing an online system and reviewing license applications.

The agency disputed some findings and argued that it met or exceeded its responsibilities despite the challenges.

“Unlike most state government programs, the bureau was simultaneously starting from the ground up on multiple fronts,” the response said.

The audit did not examine two other agencies with a hand in pot regulation — the Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees cultivation, and the Public Health Department, which regulates manufacturers.

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