MedMen was the country’s hottest pot startup—until it flamed out. Its fall has exposed the gap between “green rush” hype and the realities of a troubled industry.
The warm California sun shone down on Adam Bierman as he stepped up to the ceremonial ribbon strung across the entrance of his latest triumph: a new store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, the hottest retail strip west of the Mississippi.
Bierman stood facing a pack of clamoring photographers. Behind him, inside the shop, were besuited politicians, including Congressman Ted Lieu, who had come out to show their support. The actress Rosario Dawson, now known in Washington as Cory Booker’s girlfriend, was also on hand, recording the scene on her iPhone.
Bierman, who styled himself the Steve Jobs of the “green rush” into legal weed, sported a red hoodie emblazoned with a white pot leaf. It was early June, 2018, barely a week since MedMen, the cannabis business he led, had gone public on a Canadian stock exchange, boasting an implied valuation of $1.6 billion.
“We want the world to walk in and see what the future looks like,” he said. “And the future is right here on Abbot Kinney.”
At the time, MedMen indeed looked to become the Apple of pot, the first mainstream, nationwide consumer brand for the product that drove so many Americans to ingest and invest. Marijuana liberalization was sweeping the country. A nascent industry was taking shape. No company was better poised to reap the rewards than MedMen was.
Then, just a few months after its Abbot Kinney opening, it all began to unravel. The company got hit with a class-action lawsuit from employees alleging labor law violations. Miffed investors sued the founders, accusing them of self-dealing and other underhanded tactics. A former chief financial officer filed a blockbuster complaint in a Los Angeles court accusing the founders of a slew of misdeeds, from manipulating MedMen’s stock price, to bank fraud, to seeking private intelligence groups to get dirt on their enemies, to calling an L.A. city councilman a “midget negro” and making an illegal straw man contribution to a Nevada politician.
The suit alleged excessive spending on security—including installing a panic room in Bierman’s home—as well as using company funds on the likes of a custom Tesla SUV, “pearl-white” Cadillac Escalades, and a salary for Bierman’s personal marriage counselor.