.The Unraveling of MedMen

MedMen’s downfall by hubris

It might be tempting to write-off the astonishing implosion of MedMen as being just another instance of a weed business falling victim to the faltering cannabis economy, especially in California where MedMed is headquartered and where it operates 12 of its 23 remaining pot dispensaries, one of which is located at 1075 North 10th Street in San Jose.

While that conclusion wouldn’t be entirely wrong, the truth is that MedMen fell victim mainly to its own hubris, which was instilled in the company from the start by its hubristic founder and former CEO, Adam Bierman.

Bierman has been out of the company for nearly four years, but the company’s failure can still be tied back to him. A little over one year before his departure in 2020, the company announced its acquisition of Viktorya’s Medical Supplies LLC (Buddy’s Cannabis) in San Jose. This expanded the company’s retail presence in Northern California at the time.

“MedMen continues to expand its market share in California, the largest and most advanced cannabis market in the world,” said Bierman at the time. It was during his stewardship that MedMen spent gargantuan sums of money not only on ill-advised expansions and acquisitions like this, but also on lavish parties, Teslas, outsized executive compensation and crazy shit like the installation of a panic room in Bierman’s home.

Bierman still brags on his LinkedIn page that under his watch, MedMen became a “unicorn,” meaning a privately held startup valued at $1 billion or more. When it went public on the Canadian Securities Exchange in 2018, MedMen was valued at $3 billion. Today, MedMen, though its stores were still operating at least as of late last week, is worth approximately zero, and probably much less than that when its debts are taken into account.

Well before the worst of its excesses became known, MedMen’s jive marketing nonsense prompted the South Park guys to make fun of it in a multiple-season arc when the character Randy Marsh launched Tegridy Weed.

To be fair, South Park was really making fun of the legal pot industry as a whole, or at least the big swaths of it that are dominated by unctuous marketeers and insufferable venture-capital bros trying to pass themselves off as earnest and publicly concerned. But there were enough references to MedMen—including at least one direct name-check—to make clear who the main target was.

MedMen’s three Bay Area stores—in Emeryville, San Jose and San Francisco—were still operating as of this writing. Last week, we learned that Ellen Deutsch Harrison, the company’s fourth CEO in four years, had stepped down. Bolting with her was Michael Serruya, the board’s executive chairman who himself was CEO for a time and whose private-equity firm had poured $100 million into the company.

At its height, MedMen was nicknamed “the Apple Store of weed.” The trouble started even as the company’s valuation soared despite its huge and mounting losses. It was sued multiple times by employees and ex-employees who alleged all kinds of misdeeds, including wrongful termination but also stock manipulation, bank fraud and illicit payments to politicians. 

Parker lost in court, but MedMen’s steep reputational slide had begun. Bierman was ousted in February 2020. The next May, Politico published an investigation of the company that included tidbits like the panic room and declared MedMen to be “the WeWork of weed,” in reference to a company with an insane valuation crashing and burning.

That was nearly four years and four CEOs ago. Recently, MedMen has been shedding assets in hopes of saving itself from total ruin. Where once it had locations in 12 states, it’s now down to just four. It recently exited the Florida, Nevada and Arizona markets, and despite owning one of just 10 medical-pot licenses issued in New York, it hasn’t opened a store there.

What can a proprietary-minded pot consumer take away from all this? One data point might be helpful: One of the scandals that hit MedMen came when it was learned that the company was lobbying New York politicians to disallow private cannabis cultivation. That was, in fact, one of the things that got South Park’s attention.

So, when choosing a dispensary, it might be a good idea to pick one that sells stuff for home growers—like plant clones—as some of them do. It doesn’t guarantee that a dispensary is great or admirable, but it is nevertheless a sign of “tegridy.”

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