Sabrina Ashjian

published on July 27, 2018 - 11:39 AM
Written by Frank Lopez

In California, the legal marijuana industry is booming.

More than 5,000 new commercial cannabis business licenses were issued in the first quarter of 2018, according to, which tracks licensing activity.

That represents a growth rate of 322 percent in the quarter, with a pace of 65 licenses per day, on track to reach 20,000 marijuana licenses by the end of the year.

To help regulate the business of selling, distributing, and manufacturing marijuana in California, Governor Jerry Brown has established the Cannabis Control Appeals Panel to review petitions by businesses that have been denied licenses.

The panel will consist of five appointees, three of which were filled by Brown earlier this month, subject to senate confirmation, with the remaining two to be made by the Senate Rules Committee and speaker of the Assembly.

One of Brown’s appointees is Sabrina Ashjian, 39, of Fresno, a deputy district attorney in the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Unit of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office since 2015. She was also a public defender at the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office from 2010 to 2014 and an attorney at the Amin Law Group Ltd. from 2009 to 2010.

Ashjian attended George Washington University for her undergraduate degree, received an MA from USC’s Annenberg School for Journalism and a JD/MBA from Pepperdine University. She serves on the boards of California Women Lawyers, National Women’s Political Caucus, the Fresno County Bar Association and Fresno County Women Lawyers.

We sat down with Ashjian to talk about her new position and what this new appeals panel could mean for the Central Valley’s pot industry.

How do you feel about your new position?

I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a great extension of the public service I’ve been able to do with consumer protection. The issue here involves consumer protection with the legalization of marijuana. I have loved doing public service work throughout Fresno County and I’m just hoping to utilize those skills on a statewide level.

Why did the governor feel a need to establish this board?

In 2016, the people passed Prop. 64, which allows for the legalization of marijuana. As a result the state created regulatory framework that we would now operate within. The Bureau of Cannabis Control was put into effect, and the new board will handle all of the appeals that the bureau sees.

What’s the importance of having someone in the Central Valley working on this board?

I think it’s very exciting to see Central Valley representation. Too often we see representation from Southern California and Northern California, and the Central Valley is often left out. Our needs are very different from Los Angeles and San Francisco, so I think it’s important to have our voice, representation and experience on all types of boards and commissions. I’m hoping that having my specific experience and voice here will be beneficial.

How has your previous experience prepared you for your new position?

This is a quasi-judicial position, which means that we are going to be hearing appeals from people and businesses that have been denied a license to sell, manufacture, distribute and grow marijuana. They apply through the Bureau of Cannabis Control, and if they are denied, they may appeal. We hear the appeal. I think it’s beneficial to have legal experience — both prosecution and defense experience — so that I can fairly evaluate both sides of the situation. We want to ensure that we make fair, ethical and appropriate decisions based on the appeals that come before us.

What are some reasons that a business might be denied a license?

There are a variety of reasons, including criminal history or not filling out paperwork properly. It could be a zoning issue within the county or city. We would hear the appeal and make a decision based upon the regulations that we follow.

What will the board do to try and ensure the safety of marijuana consumers?

From a consumer protection standpoint, with legalization, they want to make sure that the product is being tracked and traced so you can see what chemicals and pesticides have been used on it for the actual product itself, as well as how it is marketed and sold to consumers. It just seems like a natural extension of doing consumer protection work in this new realm.

Do you think the area will see more marijuana dispensaries because of the new appeals board?

Along with the state, the city and county have to also allow marijuana sales. That’s something currently in front of our city council and board of supervisors to determine if that is something they are going to allow in Fresno. Different cities and counties are determining if they want to pursue that or take a wait-and-see approach.

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