The Spectacular Explosion of Cannabis’ Ambitious Startup MedMen

AP Photo/Richard Drew

The collapse of MedMen is a tale for the microdosing, CBD-soda-drinking tech era. The company itself couldn’t always figure out if it was a tech company or a cannabis company. It just knew it was racing to capitalize off the lucrative opportunity presented by cannabis’ legalization. In an incredible, deep, absorbing investigation for ProPublica, Ben Schreckinger and cannabis policy reporter Mona Zhang narrate the rise and fall of this ambitious startup, which they call the “Apple of Pot.” MedMen modeled their stores after the Apple Store. They published a glossy culture magazine called Ember that ran articles like “Is CBD the New Tylenol?” In an attempt to reach the masses and normalize cannabis consumption, they ran expensive ad campaigns where they’d cross out the word ‘stoner’ and replace that loaded term with words like “Grandmother.” “One image,” the story says, “featured a uniformed police officer.” As the story put it, “MedMen stands as a cautionary tale of American Wild West capitalism.“ It all started simply enough.

At first, as he recounts the story in interviews, Bierman thought his new client had misspoken. The elderly woman with wild hair kept saying she brought in $300,000 in revenue monthly, when she meant to say annually. There was no way, he thought, that her run-down little pot dispensary on Sunset Boulevard could be raking in $3.5 million a year.

It was 2009, long before the advent of legal recreational weed, and Bierman was not aware of California’s mom-and-pop medical pot industry—if you could even call it an industry. At the time, he and his young business partner, Modlin, were running a branding firm, mashing up the names MODlin and bierMAN and calling it ModMan. ModMan helped small, wellness-related companies like the old lady’s dispensary upgrade their image.

When Bierman finally gathered that the old woman had her numbers right, he realized that he was in the wrong business. ModMan became MedMen, and Bierman’s trade became medical marijuana.

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