Up in smoke? Cannabis Corp boss quits, company faces closure

The controversial Adelaide-based Australian Cannabis Corporation is in crisis, with its sole director resigning amid an apparent rift with its major financial backer, outspoken entrepreneur Shane Yeend.

May 15, 2017, updated May 15, 2017
Former Mighty Kingdom CEO Shane Yeend. Photo: Facebook

Former Mighty Kingdom CEO Shane Yeend. Photo: Facebook

Ben Fitzsimons, a property director and former general manager of the Adelaide 36ers, told InDaily he had “officially not yet” quit the company but confirmed he had offered his resignation.

He refused to comment on his relationship with Yeend, who has been an outspoken critic of the Weatherill Government.

In December, Yeend famously took out a full-page newspaper advertisement to berate Labor for dragging the chain on his company’s proposal to cultivate medicinal cannabis – a plan that required a raft of federal and state reforms to operate.

Yeend today published Fitzsimon’s resignation letter on his Facebook feed, along with his own commentary, in which he asks: “Is this really how SA takes advantage of global trends to create industry and jobs?”

Yeend told his Facebook followers he would “not apologise for taking a full page add (sic) to air frustration after a year of nothing” and pledged the company “will live on in one way or another”.

He also warned Fitzsimons “can’t really resign as the company has debts and he is responsible for those as a sole director”.

In his letter, Fitzsimons seemed to suggest the company could be wound up within the week, pointing out the constitutional requirement that ACC must appoint a replacement within five working days “and if they fail to do so the members must wind up the company”.

“I leave it to the members of the company to decide the future of the company, whether that be by the appointment of new directors or the winding up of the company,” he wrote.

“There are others who believe that they can do my job better than I… discord in any company is not good for its progress.

“My resignation ought to end what discord exists regarding those who want to be director(s) in my stead.”

Fitzsimons in a stakeholders meeting with government in January. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Fitzsimons’ resignation had been rumoured for some time. InDaily asked him last month to respond to suggestions he had left the corporation; at the time, he replied via text message: “I am the sole director of ACC and that has not changed.”

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Yeend is a joint shareholder in the corporation – along with Fitzsimons and DLVRD founder Reece Formosa – but has also become the public face of its operations, including its colourful campaign for Government regulatory assistance.

In March, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute pulled out of a deal to partner with the Cannabis Corp to “provide the evidence base for the use and commercialisation of medicinal cannabis”, after a series of attacks on the Government by Yeend, who threatened to hire his own film crew and hijack Jay Weatherill’s media conferences in the lead-up to the state election. It also emerged that Weatherill had taken a verbal spray at Yeend at a December fundraiser over the newspaper advertisement.

At the time, SAHMRI executive ­director Steve Wesselingh told The Australian newspaper: “We just felt that we really only go into agreements with high-quality partners… I am not worried about our reputation in relation to medi­cinal cannabis — I am worried about our reputation in relation to people whose ­behaviour isn’t up the level we ­expect from our partners.”

Fitzsimons seemed to suggest a fraught working relationship with the State Government was a factor in his resignation, writing: “My decision to resign is not taken lightly.”

“I have taken the company forward since my appointment; I have expended much time, effort and monies in promoting the company [which] has but one object, medicinal cannabis.

“There are ministers and others who have aired publicly that they will not deal with the company and its licence application due to person(s) associated with the company, which adverse opinion I do not know how to change.

“If that position is not changed, the company will never be successful in its licence application [and] without the licence the company has no purpose.”

Fitzsimons told InDaily he had “a number of things I’m working on property-wise and other interests” but “I don’t know what the future will be”.

Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher said in a statement that the standoff was “a matter for Australian Cannabis Corporation”.

“The State Government will continue to work constructively with businesses interested in setting up medicinal cannabis industries in South Australia,” he said.




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