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With Or Without Cuomo, MedMen Is Blazing A Trail For Legal Weed In New York

The California-based cannabis company is betting on marijuana legalization in the Empire State, and the timing couldn’t be more crucial.

On Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, just steps from Bryant Park, is MedMen’s first New York City joint, if you will. The California-based cannabis company is ringing in 4/20 today with the opening of its 2,000-square-foot flagship store, one of only three legal dispensaries in Manhattan.

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MedMen makes its debut as marijuana legalization is top of mind in New York. Gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon recently declared her support for legalizing recreational marijuana, staking her argument on the stark racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests. Current Governor Andrew Cuomo–who has dubbed marijuana a “gateway drug”–launched a study earlier this year into the impact of legalization in New York.

Meanwhile, New York’s neighboring states, New Jersey and Connecticut, are en route to legalizing marijuana, and nearby Massachusetts already has.

[Photo: courtesy of MedMen]
Adam Bierman, the CEO of MedMen, is convinced his company can help sway the conversation, by redefining the look and feel of a dispensary. “This is about mainstreaming marijuana and destigmatizing it,” he told reporters at an event in MedMen’s Manhattan location on Wednesday night, where state senators from New York and New Jersey were in attendance. “This place is filled with politicians who didn’t understand that marijuana could look like this.”

Adam Bierman (left) [Photo: courtesy of MadMen]
“This place” takes the form of a minimalist, open space with endless white walls. A handful of items hang on the walls, while a neon MedMen sign greets you when you walk in. There are also photos of other MedMen locations, and posters for the company’s “Forget Stoner” campaign, the most memorable of which features a grandmother striking a pose in red sunglasses. MedMen’s products–gel caps, tinctures, and vape pens–are displayed on well-lit wood tables, encased alongside iPads that offer details on each strain.

Cue The Inevitable Apple Store Comparisons

If all this sounds, well, expensive or exclusive, MedMen’s head of communications, Daniel Yi, insists that MedMen is not peddling luxury wares; the intent is simply to create familiarity and accessibility.

“The vast majority of Americans have never had the experience of walking into a pot shop,” Yi told me. “But the vast majority of Americans know, even if they haven’t set foot in an Apple Store, exactly what it feels like. You walk in, and it feels familiar … it’s seamless, and as a consumer, you know what you’re supposed to do.”

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[Photo: courtesy of MedMen]
Still, setting up shop in Manhattan is quite an investment, even for a company reportedly worth $1 billion, when New York has just over 50,000 registered medical marijuana users–a fraction of the potential customer base in California, where marijuana is legal. A Fifth Avenue address doesn’t come cheap, and MedMen reportedly spent $26 million to acquire a company that had one of two dispensary licenses in New York.

It’s no surprise, then, that MedMen is betting on the legalization of recreational marijuana–and actively advocating for it, by courting politicians like New York State Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the legislation to legalize medical marijuana in 2014.

“We cannot ignore marijuana in New York,” Savino said when she took the floor at the MedMen event. “Because if not, New Yorkers are going to vote with their feet. They’re going to drive to New Jersey or drive to Massachusetts.”

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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