Steven Hoffman, right, the chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, deliberates on regulations with other members of the commission in 2017. Image courtesy Cannabis Society via YouTube

Charges against Sheffield pot farm partner dropped, as CCC allows harvest of this year’s crop

Sheffield — Criminal charges have been dropped against a partner in a company that runs a cannabis grow facility in Sheffield.

BCWC LLC, which does business as Nova Farms, operates a marijuana farm in Sheffield and another in Attleboro. The company had its licenses suspended last month by the state Cannabis Control Commission, which regulates and licenses the cultivation and retail sales of marijuana and related products.

A tweet published by ABC6 following the arrest of Mark Rioux.

The suspension came shortly after the commission had learned of pending criminal charges against Mark P. Rioux, one of the owners and partners in Nova. Rioux, 36, of North Attleboro, pleaded not guilty Aug. 29 in Attleboro District Court to conspiracy to violate narcotics laws to traffic in marijuana, according to the Sun Chronicle newspaper in Attleboro.

One day earlier, Rioux had been arrested by Attleboro police in connection with a raid conducted in July when police seized 143 marijuana plants growing illegally inside a building. Also arrested in that raid was Marshall Muir, 39, of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Nova has insisted the company had nothing to do with the operation: “At this time the company would like to make clear that neither the company, its managers, nor any other of its members has any involvement in the … pending charge against Mr. (Mark) Rioux,” Nova Farms President Derek Ross wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to the commission.

But on Sept. 27, after Rioux’s lawyer argued that there was insufficient evidence, an Attleboro judge dismissed a charge against Rioux of conspiracy to commit marijuana trafficking. Even though the charges were dropped, the commission suspended all of the licenses connected to Nova Farms at the time of the charges, including the Sheffield grow facility. The CCC says the investigation continues.

However, last week the commission amended Nova’s suspended licenses so that it can continue to cultivate and harvest this year’s crop at its 81-acre property at 136 Kellogg Road in Sheffield, the Sun Chronicle reported. Nova has six licenses that include its Sheffield and Attleboro facilities.

Marijuana being grown in the indoor growing facility of Theory Wellness in Bridgewater, Mass. Photo courtesy Theory Wellness

Nova announced in May that it had received its final license from the CCC to “cultivate outdoor, sun-grown marijuana” at the farm it had recently purchased on Kellogg Road. Click here to read the CCC’s recommendation on the license.

Ross did not respond to an initial message seeking comment but later sent a statement:

“Nova Farms is delighted that the charges against Mark Rioux have been dropped. Though Mark Rioux is no longer part of Nova Farms it sheds a strong light on the fact that Nova Farms takes all accusations very seriously.”

Ross said the company “goal has always been … to comply with all Mass CCC regulations” and Nova has “worked hand-in-hand with the Mass CCC since our suspensions to make sure that no stone has been left unturned.” Ross praised the commission and its commitment to the investigation and to “health and safety.”

“Now that our suspension has been amended to allow for cultivation and harvest we’re very excited to get back to business at our Sheffield Farm. Our sun-grown, organic flower is truly one of a kind.”

Protesters picket during a September site visit by the Great Barrington Selectboard to 22 VanDeusenville Road, where Fulcrum Enterprises wants to build a cannabis grow facility. Photo: Terry Cowgill

When it received its licenses in May, Ross said the CCC’s decision made Nova Farms the first-ever legal outdoor grow facility “on the East Coast and the largest with 80,000 square feet of cannabis canopy” that “boasts some of the richest soil in all of Massachusetts.”

Farther up the road on VanDeusenville Road in Housatonic, there is another cultivation and manufacturing facility proposed. Fulcrum Enterprises has a controversial application pending before the town of Great Barrington. The selectboard expects to continue the public hearing for Fulcrum’s application for a special permit at its Monday, Oct. 21, meeting at 6 p.m. at the Claire Teague Senior Center.

The cultivation, sale and use of recreational cannabis-related products was legalized in Massachusetts through a 2016 ballot initiative. The measure passed by almost 7.5 percentage points statewide and by almost 30 points in Great Barrington and by almost 24 points in Sheffield. Implementation of the new law was left to the hastily created state CCC. Preceding that law, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012 through the same process.