Politics & Culture

Is This the Future of Cannabis?

My look inside MedMen, a new kind of dispensary marketing the stigma out of cannabis.

Imagine you're 16 again, and you're sick. You've just had to transfer out of a normal high school to independent study, because you can't sit through classes without being overcome by intense, unexplainable nausea. Nobody can figure out what's wrong with you. You can't eat, and you wake up nauseous, and your weight is hitting dangerous lows. Your primary care physician can't figure out what's wrong, and refers you to a specialist. At first, the gastroentirologist diagnoses you with acid reflux. That doesn't explain all of it, and so you have to get an endoscopy. The procedure makes you nervous, but it's necessary to figure out what's wrong with you. When you come out of it, they explain to you that they tried blowing air into your stomach and it wouldn't expand. Turns out, what's making you sick like this, is anxiety. Your body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode. You're given the standard option for treatment: you can take benzodiazepines, a class of drug that includes Xanax and Klonopin, known for its severely addictive tendencies. There's a history of addiction in your family, so this scares you. If you want it, there's an alternative option. You can get a prescription that allows you (and an adult) to go into buildings with bars over the windows. Inside, there's a variety of completely safe, non-addictive medicines, ones you can pick and choose from behind the counter until you determine which is right for you. The medicine will even make you hungry, a feeling you haven't been able to feel for months. But this option is highly stigmatized, looked down upon by the general populace. Would you still choose it? I know I would.

 

I did.

 

The story of what led me to medical marijuana isn't the most dramatic there is. It's well-documented that cannabis helps with things like chronic pain and seizures as well as mental illnesses. As a medicine, it has helped countless numbers of people. However, as the cultural tide shifts, it's becoming clearer that its medicinal uses aren't necessarily at the forefront of everyone's mind. That's okay, too—the same properties that alleviated my anxiety allow for people who may not be similarly afflicted to come home, light a joint, and relax at the end of the day. MedMen, a company that aims to modernize the way we consume cannabis, caters to both crowds.

"Tomorrow, there'll be a line," B.J. Carretta, Chief Marketing Officer of the company, tells me as we sit outside of the West Hollywood location around 4PM on a Friday. Not only is it Presidents' Day weekend, but it's NBA All-Star weekend, and this year it's taking place in LA. We've already seen a number of people come in and out of the store, which is busy but not suffocatingly packed, the way you'd imagine a toy store just before Christmas. Not uncomfortable, but notable. The customers all seem to range in age and experience. A group of young guys in the corner talk to an employee, clearly stocking up before they go home to watch basketball. An older couple who seem to have grabbed what they wanted check out at the counter. MedMen's customer base is unquestionably diverse.

 

This is no accident. Founded by two medical dispensary owners, the company's goal is to attract everyone—not just your average weed-smoker. Their first major campaign is called "Faces," and comes in the form of billboards, shirts, and photos that all follow the general format of "It's legal." For example, "Heal. It's legal." or "Relax. It's legal." None feature cannabis imagery, just the implication is enough to get the message across.

 

Although such a wide-spread campaign may be off-putting for some die-hard stoners, Carretta isn't concerned. "As things grow, the industries evolve...People like dabs, people like flower. We have it, come get it. There's no difference. But in order to grow the space, we also have to go after the chardonnay mom, and the lawyer, and the doctor." Although MedMen already has their core base laid out for them, the intent behind their advertising is to destigmatize the plant. "I actually like it," Carretta says. "There's really no limit." They even intend to give back to the community, getting involved with things like legal reform programs for those who were arrested for minor cannabis offenses.

 

If you didn't know what they were selling, the dispensary itself would be hard to distinguish from any other store, which is how it's garnered a reputation as "the Apple store of weed." Small capsules with included magnifying glasses allow you to view and smell cannabis buds without touching them. Edibles sit on shelves or in a refrigerator depending on the product. Concentrates sit under glass cases. Most importantly, customer service representatives are attentive to the point of almost being doting, there to answer every question you may think to ask. “It’s gonna be a feel game for most people,” Carretta tells me, which makes these red-shirted staff so important. “There’s no roadmap, and there’s no research.”

 

MedMen has big plans for the future, and research is a part of it. They intend on being one of the first, if not the first, mass quantity “seed to sale” companies on the market. Because of this, they’ll be able to monitor every aspect of the growth process, tailoring their products to what the consumer wants. “There shouldn’t be any hidden secrets here,” he says when talking about the brand’s plan to showcase their growth process. The company intends to be fully open about what is (or isn’t) going into their products, and provide research to consumers and industry along the way. “You’re going to see the big pharmaceutical companies try to come in, that’s fine, let them try to come in,” he clarifies, “This is a different thing….Everyone was doing it, now they can do it publicly. It should start a new narrative.”

 

For those who never saw the old model of cannabis legalization, who never walked into the rooms with barred windows, this may seem normal, not like a new narrative. Soon, it will be normal, the dark days of medical marijuana programs and stigmatized use forgotten. MedMen is at the forefront of a movement promoting acceptance. But when I walked into the storefront for the first time, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and products on shelves, I felt something other than acceptance. For people like me, having a place like MedMen doesn’t just represent the mainstreaming of cannabis culture. It represents hope.

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