Photos by Manhart Photography
If you take a look at An-Chi Tsou’s resume, you may guess her next big career move would be to run for Governor of California. Tsou completed her PhD at UC Berkley in 2012 and began service in the public sector the same year. She is most recently known for her role as the Senior Policy Advisor for the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. She, along with 10 other employees, have been responsible for creating the medical cannabis regulations in California, which are set to be put into practice early next year, with licensing beginning in 2018.
Tsou did not major in political science, however. She has a rather extensive background in science, bio-engineering to be precise. After her last year of graduate school, Tsou took a fellowship that merged science and business in the public sector. She has been on the political road ever since, until now. Tsou has decided to give up the public sector and move into the private one. CULTURE had the privilege of interviewing An-Chi Tsou on her last day as Senior Policy Advisor. She talked about her position in the bureau, her future endeavors now that she is changing roles and even a little about Ultimate Frisbee.
“Patient safety is of huge importance. Some businesses try their best to create products that are safe. But, without state and local standards, that is sometimes hard to do.”
What do you look forward to most when it comes to moving into the private sector?
Part of it is, I like new challenges. I am excited about meeting a variety of people and hearing their stories and then being able to help. That feeling of helping people, I get a high off of that.
Tell us about your new role as a consultant in the private sector.
I’m actually opening up my own firm—Tsou Consulting, LLC. One of my goals is to work with underrepresented groups to create equal access.
How will you combine your knowledge of California’s current cannabis policies with Tsou Consulting, LLC?
Using my experience and understanding of the regulatory and legislative processes to create my own strategy and materials. My experience gives me a unique perspective that can help people in the industry.
Have you played ultimate Frisbee lately? Who would you love to play (and beat)?
(Laughs.) I have. I’m the Co-Captain of a team, with my husband, the Polar Bears. We just finished our main season. I would love to play Serena Williams because she is an incredible athlete, very competitive and a role model. She has been at the top of her game for so freaking long. She is an inspiration to me and many other athletes.
“This is our chance to say hey, the government can help people. Working with people who are passionate about what they are doing is just so infectious. It is an exciting time for the industry. To be part of that, to be part of history—that is awesome!”
Writing regulations is a long and tedious process. Where was your group in this process when you left?
We just finished the pre-regulatory stake holder meetings and came up with some initial ideas to pitch to the public. A lot of progress was made, a lot of people I know are really anxious to see the end result.
What did you feel most strongly about in regulating medical cannabis in California?
There are three highlights for me, personally. First, patient safety is of huge importance. Some businesses try their best to create products that are safe. But, without state and local standards, that is sometimes hard to do. His is also important to me because of my bio-engineering background. I have met people with chronic diseases with no other solution. This gives them access to medicine that makes them feel better. One of the reasons I went into public policy is because I wanted to help people. Second is public safety. I have talked to stake holders about what they are going through. I have a lot of respect for companies that have been in existence for multiple generations. This can be a dangerous business in some circumstances. Finally, protecting the environment is critical to having strong regulations. A lot of damage has been done to certain parts of the state and there is a great deal of work ahead of us to fix those problems.
What regulations did you least look forward to?
I don’t think there’s anything I am looking forward to the least. There are a lot of hot button issues that will be challenging. My friends will tell you I don’t shy away from challenges.
With the new addition of a license distributor, people are nervous that cannabis prices will shoot up. Do you believe this will happen?
I think this is the least understood license under the medical program. It was put there to be a third party inspection and quality assurance type of agent. I really think the first thing we have to do is educate folks on what the license is.
Will the newly legal recreational cannabis affect the work that has been done thus far in the medical regulations? Will it change anything? Or delay the structuring?
There is some flexibility there to be able to change it. So it could take longer. I suspect there will be a bill to make some changes to one or both. December will be really interesting to see what new bills will be put out there. Yet another reason to get engaged.
You speak several languages. How do you think you can help non-English speaking people grasp the importance of medical cannabis and its regulation in California?
I want to really help; I feel inspired as a woman of color to help out different businesses and am happy to partner with minority owned businesses. I want to help people learn how to get involved and to understand the process.
What does a typical day as the Senior Policy Advisor for the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation look like?
I don’t know if there was a typical one. Some days I was making informational materials for the public, meeting with the legislature and writing analysis on different things. Other days I was meeting with stakeholders, or other regulatory agencies, or researching or meeting with other states. It definitely depended on the day.
What inspires you to be part of the cannabis industry?
It is a fascinating policy area. It is so rare that anyone in the public sector is able to create something new. Some policies have been around a really long time. I say “new,” but I put quotes around it because it has actually been around a long time. This is our chance to say hey, the government can help people. Working with people who are passionate about what they are doing is just so infectious. It is an exciting time for the industry. To be part of that, to be part of history—that is awesome!