Sleek California dispensary MedMen has arrived in New York City, with an untapped market of consumers in their sights.
“You know I’m just some L.A. guy that can’t get around well in Manhattan, but I do know this: this is the most iconic shopping retail street in the world. And this store is selling marijuana,” said Adam Bierman, the young C.E.O. of the legal weed distributor MedMen, on Wednesday night. Bierman was speaking to a crowd of suits—no ties—at a preview of the company’s latest store at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Founded in 2010, MedMen has quickly become a press darling of the quickly growing legal marijuana market. While the company likes to call itself the “Apple Store of cannabis,” there seems to be some confusion as to what its actual best retail analogue is. Fast Company called it the “Starbucks of weed.” Page Six called it the “Barneys of weed.” Chief Marketing Officer B.J. Carretta, an imposingly tall person who came to MedMen from the sports world, pushed back on the last designation. “If I were to actually compare it [to fashion retail], I would probably say from the volume we do, Nordstrom and Target. Target has amazing branding and amazing in-house brands that they sell, and the experience is great. It’s not super down here. It’s not super up here. It’s accessible.”
There you have it: the Barneys of weed is actually the Target of weed. Whatever you might call it, with vape pens from $20 to $200, the store is decidedly mass market, and will only get more so. The company currently operates 12 stores with three more on the way. It opened a $15 million state-of-the-art weed factory outside of Reno earlier this month. It uses technology designed in Holland to grow 25,000 plants that will produce 10,000 pounds of weed per year. The Fifth Avenue location is the first in New York City, but the fourth in New York state, where medical marijuana was legalized in 2014. (California and Nevada both allow the purchase of marijuana for recreational use, but in Manhattan, competition for selling legal medical marijuana is scant.)
If you’ll allow one more retail comparison, MedMen could also be the “Supreme of weed,” and not just because of the red-and-white color scheme both brands employ. The new factory will allow the company to do limited-edition drops. “It can be a quick like ripping from sneaker culture with new product drops,” Carretta said. “We can just grow strains and only make six pounds of it and sell it and say, ‘That’s all you get,’ like a Supreme line. You’re in, you’re out. That’s it.” Eventually, Carretta says, it will release a luxury in-house brand that’s “probably going to be more expensive than anything else we carry in the store. It’s comparable to a couple of other [brands], but it’ll be pre-rolled, pre-packaged flowers, vape pens, topical, mouth sprays, edibles, all that stuff.”
Physically, the Manhattan space, modeled after the company’s L.A. flagship, isn’t quite Barneys, and its not quite Apple either. Several long tables house tablets that break down ingredients, effects, and maladies each product can treat. Nary a bong was in sight. It’s more bro-y than the sort of androgynous luxury Barneys stores employ, and yet, when I put my glass of champagne down on a table to learn a thing or two from a screen, a server swooped in with a cocktail napkin and a look that tacitly communicated, “These tables are reclaimed wood, you monster.” Supreme made sense to me.
The walls are decorated with life-size photos of MedMen’s latest ad campaign, featuring 16 “non-stereotypical” cannabis consumers from around the country overlaid with the word “stoner” crossed out. Each one was tidily labeled, Chelsea gallery style. A photo of an octogenarian in red art-lady glasses read: “Barbra Rubin – Grandmother, Doctor with a PhD, professional meditation teacher, and avid Hula-Hoop-er, Barbra enjoys swimming, reading, and connecting with close friends over a dish of edibles.”
Interior Fifth Avenue Store; Medmen co-founders, Adam Bierman and Andrew Modlin
Photos by Samantha Deitch/BFA.com.
But first, the doctors.
The State of New York passed Assembly Bill A6357 in 2014, making medical marijuana legal in New York under a state-regulated medical marijuana program, which means doctors have to register with the New York State Department of Health and take a four-hour course administered by one of two providers for a little over $200. Opening a store in the city “is not a marketing challenge,” Carretta said, even though the Federal Communications Commision prohibits advertising on television, radio, Google, Instagram, Facebook, et cetera. (Podcasts are a loophole, and he says they’re making headway there with coupon codes offered on several shows). Pot sells itself and he’s confident word will spread, but “it’s a doctor challenge, because not enough doctors are actually licensed to recommend pot.”
At present, a little over 1,000 New York state doctors listed on the D.O.H. Web site are registered to suggest cannabis to treat their patients’ ailments, which as of last year extends to even P.T.S.D. (the number of doctors is likely larger because doctors have to consent to be listed publicly there). And only 50,000 some odd New York residents are registered to buy medical marijuana. While the company anticipates eventual growth, the Fifth Avenue store will serve primarily as a marketing device on the East Coast. While only in-state medical marijuana licensees who are 21 years and older can make a purchase, people 18 years and older can come inside and have a look at the space. It’s across the street from the old Lord & Taylor headquarters, now a WeWork flagship—which promises something of a built-in customer base.
Would I be among them? Maybe. As Barbra the hula-hooper is there to say, MedMen’s glossy design and the educational iPads promised that medical marijuana for everyone, and also no one in particular. Like Target, it is functional without any necessarily specific allure, but its convenience is undeniable. Still it’s been a long, strange trip to legalization to my adopted state of New York, and surely other tailored options are coming, many of which already exist in L.A., Colorado, or elsewhere. There will be more above-board businesses to support, ones with diverse ownership, and new cultural artifacts to consume. A friend in the tech world returned from West Coast a few weeks ago with tales of Broccoli, a magazine for women by women that examines and celebrates weed culture—it looks like Into the Gloss with more intersectional artwork. Whoopi Goldberg famously has a line, as does Melissa Etheridge. Just as weed-smokers aren’t one note, weed entrepreneurs aren’t one note, either. But for right now, MedMen is the only Target in town.