On Aug. 16, 2017, Cat Packer, center, speaks to the L.A. City Council before being confirmed as executive director of the new Department of Cannabis Regulation. Robert Ahn, on left, and Philip Mercado, on right, both were also confirmed as part of the five-person Cannabis Commission that will oversee issuing permits to marijuana businesses. (Courtesy L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson’s office/Betsy Annas)

Los Angeles’ new cannabis czar for ‘new era’ is longtime legalization activist

Cat Packer, a nominee of Mayor Eric Garcetti, was confirmed on a City Council vote of 13-0

An active and prominent supporter of the campaign to legalize recreational-use cannabis in California will head up the Los Angeles agency tasked with regulating the local marijuana industry.

Cat Packer, a nominee of Mayor Eric Garcetti, was confirmed on a City Council vote of 13-0 Wednesday to serve as executive director for the city’s newly created Department of Cannabis Regulation. The city is weighing proposed regulations to allow dispensaries, cultivators, manufacturers and other types of cannabis-related businesses to operate.

Packer recently served as policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for changes to cannabis laws at the state level. Previously she was a campaign coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, a group that raised money for Proposition 64, the state ballot measure voters approved to legalize recreational-use marijuana by adults.

As California prepares to move forward in January with legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Packer will be the person steering the Los Angeles rollout of regulation for the burgeoning industry.

Packer told the City Council she is looking “forward to working with all of you to make sure, as we embark on this new era of cannabis policies, that we do it the right way.”

City leaders are in the midst of debating the regulation, which is expected to include a licensing or permitting program for the industry.

Packer has been critical of the effects the prohibition of marijuana — and a law enforcement crackdown on the illegal drug trade — has had on the black community and other minority groups.

She told the council Wednesday that she worked to change cannabis policies because of how the prohibition, and the “war on drugs,” has affected “communities of color.”

In her new post, however, Packer will be expected by city leaders to straddle the goals of ensuring a smoothly run licensing program with the need to enforce firm rules for the cannabis industry.

Touching on this balancing act, Packer said she wants to “create a department with public service to let community members know that we will protect their communities.”

“We intend to protect children here in Los Angeles,” she said. “We intend to protect the environment here in Los Angeles, and we intend to protect legal businesses here serving Los Angeles.”

She also said she plans to bring a scientific and “data-driven” approach to the industry. Council President Herb Wesson said that in confirming Packer to lead the city’s cannabis regulatory agency, “we show the rest of the world what the values are for us on this council and for the people of the city of Los Angeles.”

The city’s new cannabis regulatory agency was created through passage of Measure M, which allows city leaders to create regulation for the industry. That measure replaces Proposition D, a 2013 voter-approved ban on marijuana businesses that was aimed at stemming a proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. The medicinal use of marijuana was legalized in 1996 under an earlier ballot measure approved by California voters.

The council also confirmed nominees to a five-person Cannabis Commission, which will review licensing applications. The members are:

• Rita Villa, an accountant and neighborhood council member;

• Misty Wilks, an attorney who says she initially got involved with the issue of cannabis due to “the oversaturation of illegal cannabis businesses” in South Los Angeles;

• Philip Mercardo, chief surgeon at Kaiser Permanente’s Baldwin Park Medical Center;

• Robert Ahn, an attorney and former member of the Planning Commission, and

• Victor Narro, an attorney and project director of the UCLA Labor Center.

This story was first published on TheCannifornian.com