- Ascend Wellness and MedMen are stuck in a heated feud over a lucrative New York cannabis license.
- Ascend CEO Abner Kurtin said the feud made the whole industry look bad at a critical time.
- “This is an attempt to extort Ascend for a higher price,” Kurtin said in an interview.
The CEO of a company involved in a dispute with a struggling rival over a New York state cannabis license said the conflict was casting a shadow over the entire industry.
Ascend Wellness CEO Abner Kurtin said the feud had taught New York regulators that cannabis companies couldn’t be trusted. Kurtin, in an interview with Insider, said the relationship he wanted to build with regulators was “critical” to the success of the industry.
“To have a bunch of stock jockeys and criminals pursue this kind of nonsense makes us all look bad,” he said.
Last year, MedMen agreed to sell its New York cannabis retail license to Ascend Wellness Holdings for $73 million. After New York regulators approved the sale, MedMen reneged on its agreement, Ascend said in January. MedMen, for its part, has said regulators didn’t formally sign off on the deal in time and that Ascend executives including Kurtin used campaign donations and other forms of political influence to speed up the approval process.
The dispute centers on access to New York’s cannabis market
“We are not surprised to see Ascend’s CEO resorting to petty falsehoods, given the issues he now faces, but we won’t be responding to nonsense,” MedMen said, in an emailed statement attributed to the company’s lawyer.
Kurtin said in the interview that MedMen is trying to secure more money from Ascend.
“This is an attempt to extort Ascend for a higher price,” Kurtin said. “They want to make a buck.”
At the core of the conflict is access to what’s expected to be a $7 billion market for cannabis in New York within five years. Large, well-capitalized cannabis companies are racing to get access to New York, which is set to begin sales by some time next year.
Ascend filed a lawsuit in the state’s Supreme Court in January, accusing MedMen of having seller’s remorse. Since then, the two companies have been involved in an escalating legal tit for tat, with MedMen filing a countersuit. MedMen retracted some claims of its countersuit in February.
Short term gains or a long-term business?
The cannabis giant Tilray purchased a chunk of MedMen’s debt last year in a bid to gain a foothold in the US. Michael Serruya, who has a long history of investing in the cannabis industry, became MedMen’s interim CEO in November — the company’s third CEO in under two years.
Kurtin said MedMen’s new leadership was “just MedMen 1.0 with a new band of criminals.”
He added that it was challenging to make money in the cannabis industry, as companies had to contend with federal illegality, complex state and municipal regulations, and cannabis stocks’ slump in recent months.
Kurtin said, in his view, that Serruya and Tilray CEO Irwin Simon were more focused on short-term gains in the stock market than building lasting cannabis businesses. Tilray Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Berrin Noorata told Insider in an emailed statement that Tilray “is not an equity holder in, or an affiliate of, MedMen, and neither Tilray nor Irwin Simon is a party to the litigation with Ascend.”
“They’re stock jockeys,” Kurtin said. “They’re looking for an opportunity to ramp the stock and dump it on unsuspecting shareholders. They’re looking to manipulate the stock, and the loser of this is the people of New York.”