Is multistate cannabis operator Ascend Wellness up for sale?

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Image of an Ascend Wellness store in downtown Boston
Image of Abner Kurtin
Abner Kurtin

(This story has been updated to correct the number of shares Abner Kurtin holds in Ascend.)

Abner Kurtin, a former CEO of multistate cannabis operator Ascend Wellness Holdings, is no longer giving interviews since transitioning to the executive chair role only days before a battery charge was dropped against him late last month.

But in a statement sent to MJBizDaily via text, he made it clear that shareholder value is top of mind.

What’s less clear is how New York-based Ascend plans to proceed to increase that value.

“As the largest shareholder, I believe the industry is consolidating and AWH is too small to be independent long-term and the board will seek any and all opportunities to achieve shareholder value,” he said.

Ascend Wellness trades as AAWH.U on the Canadian Securities Exchange and as AAWH on the U.S. over-the-counter markets.

With 29,399,875 shares and 39.6% of the aggregate voting power, according to the company’s latest proxy, Kurtin still has a powerful voice at the company.

“I don’t think much has changed as far as his role,” said Avis Bulbulyan, the chief executive officer at Los Angeles-based marijuana consultancy Siva Enterprises.

“He used to speak and direct the company as CEO; he’s doing the same thing but now speaking as the board.”

Bulbulyan said Kurtin’s statement could indicate the company could be up for sale “because there’s a dispute ongoing about his role in the company, primarily as CEO, and his ego won’t let him step aside and have someone else run it, so he would rather put it up for sale.”

If that’s the case, Bulbulyan said, the statement will serve to make potential acquirers aware of where Kurtin stands without him saying it outright.

“It’ll get you buyers knocking on your door but still leave you in the driver’s seat during negotiations because you’re being sought rather than seeking,” Bulbulyan said.

But Ascend could also be looking to acquire or merge with another company, the consultant added.

“If that’s the case, by putting out a statement like that, he’s both testing the waters with shareholders to see what the general reception or pushback is, or he’s soliciting smaller companies to merge with AWH so that together they won’t be small and independent.”

Either way, Bulbulyan anticipates change soon.

“Whether he’s selling or buying,” Bulbulyan said, “I don’t expect (Ascend) to continue on the path they’ve been on, and I don’t think it’ll take long before we find out which direction they’re headed.”

Kate Robertson can be reached at kate.robertson@mjbizdaily.com.