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Cannabis commission approves marijuana farm license associated with agency’s chair

Investigators clear O’Brien but fault company for not disclosing other ownership changes

Cannabis Control Commission chair and former Massachusetts treasurer Shannon O'Brien, seen here at a 2017 forum, faced an awkward controversy over her previously ownership of a marijuana firm.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has approved a final license for Greenfield Greenery, a proposed outdoor marijuana farm in Greenfield that fell under scrutiny for its ties to the agency’s chair, former state treasurer Shannon O’Brien.

The 3-0 vote at a Thursday meeting of the five-member regulatory body — O’Brien recused herself and another commissioner was absent — appeared to close out a controversy that clouded O’Brien’s September debut as the state’s new pot czar and put staffers in the awkward position of investigating their own boss.

A report by the commission’s enforcement team presented at the meeting essentially cleared O’Brien of violating disclosure regulations when she gave up her ownership stake in the company in late 2021.

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“I hold myself to a high ethical standard and I’ve always done that in public service,” O’Brien told reporters following the meeting. “I’m glad now that, given the staff’s report, they can see I conducted myself in an ethical and transparent way.”

State rules mandate the disclosure of all significant changes to a marijuana company’s leadership, regulations intended to prevent hidden investors from sidestepping background checks or secretly controlling more licenses than allowed by law.

Greenfield Greenery’s initial license application in December 2020 listed O’Brien and dairy farmer Randy Facey as 50-50 partners in the venture. A year later, O’Brien dropped out of the project entirely and assigned all her shares back to the company, she said.

But when Greenfield Greenery came eventually came before the commission for final licensure last October, other members of the agency questioned whether the firm had notified regulators about the change and whether O’Brien was technically still attached to the application. They asked agency investigators to look into the firm’s ownership structure and report back.

That analysis, presented to the commission Thursday, found O’Brien and Greenfield Greenery did not violate any rules around her departure. Staffers said licensed pot firms only need to notify the commission when an owner or manager leaves, whereas adding new executives or investors requires the commission’s approval. They concluded in their report that the company had met the notification requirement by removing O’Brien from application paperwork it submitted in December 2021, and also said O’Brien had been truthful in describing her relationship with the company in news media interviews.

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Enforcement staffers “did not discover anything in the submitted documentation illustrating a continued affiliation or financial relationship amongst [Greenfield Greenery] and O’Brien after November 2021,” investigators wrote in the report.

Investigators did find other violations as they examined the company’s records, however, saying Greenfield Greenery failed to apply for permission before adding a new co-owner, Elizabeth Stainton, and appointing a new chief executive in the spring of 2022 — changes that should have been voted on by the commission beforehand. The new chief executive, Koeju John Song, was also associated with another pot company, putting her over the state’s cap on how many licensed cannabis firms can be controlled by one person.

Greenfield Greenery in December immediately removed Stainton and Song after investigators presented the company with their findings, according to the commission. Investigators recommended the agency approve the firm’s application for a change of ownership and issue it a final license.

A somewhat similar case in 2019, in which multi-state marijuana company Curaleaf carried out a significant merger without approval, prompted the commission to fine the conglomerate $250,000. However, Greenfield Greenery, a much smaller company that has yet to begin its operations and told investigators it thought it had followed the regulations by applying in May for permission to change its ownership structure, will not face further discipline.

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Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.