Andrew Modlin is 30. He’s a WeHo resident with blond hair, boyish looks and a slight frame. He’s also the co-founder/COO of MedMen, the 2,100-square-foot retail space selling more strains of marijuana and reefer-infused products than you may have known existed. (Bee tee dubs…did you know there are at least 1,200 slang terms for pot?)
“The store was very dark,” Modlin said. “I did the paperwork and they show you, like, five different things.” By “things” he means types of weed. “There wasn’t edibles or products.” This was about 12 years ago. “You pay at the window and shove the cash through.” Such a nice touch. “And they shove the bag [to you].”
That was then. MedMen is now.
This ganjapreneur wants nothing short of revolutionizing how we think about, shop for and consume pot.
“What I wanted to bring was a more normalized experience than a dark room with a security gate,” Modlin said, referring to other dispensaries. “You feel like you’re being a criminal.”
Not at MedMen. With its burnished wood walls, pinpoint lighting and high-end walnut-and-glass displays, I told him it’s like the Whole Foods of marijuana. “That’s good,” Modlin said, grinning.
“What people want,” Modlin said, “is a more normalized, more holistic, more,” hold on, new word, “nutraceutical type of approach to medical marijuana, or just marijuana in general.”
He is creating a modern, perhaps much more familiar, retail experience. “That’s what we strive for,” Modlin said. “People come in, and they don’t feel like they’re doing something wrong. ‘I’m going to pick up my groceries, my wine, my vape pen.’”
Who are MedMen’s customers, anyway? The clean-lined haute design of the dispensary “really brought in a whole different market of people,” Modlin said, “not the kind of people [one] normally associates with marijuana.”
On the two days I visited I noticed a wide range of customers: Millennial straight couples in their twenties and fashionable retiree women who might live in neighboring Beverly Hills.
No matter who they are, customers need a recommendation letter from a doctor. (MedMen can refer you to one.) Once obtained, just put your letter on file, show your ID each time you visit and shop, shop away.
The assortment of marijuana products on tap astonished me – and we’ll get to those – but most impressive were the two unique ways MedMen allows customers to interact with the reefer of their choice.
iPads offer a hi-tech virtual menu showing photos of each type of alfalfa MedMen sells. The THC percentage, where it’s grown, along with aromatic qualities and flavor associations follow, like tasting notes in an issue of “Wine Spectator.” (The viticultural comparison is intentional. Check out the culinary video featuring DTLA restaurant Redbird on medmen.com’s homepage.)
If you prefer a 3D experiential approach, pick up one of the cannabis cases Modlin invented (patent pending). They look like plexiglass hockey pucks and are attached to the table displays by a thin metal cable, like iPhones in a Mac store. Just push aside the little door on the top and take a sniff; the scent of grass wafts into your nostrils.
Clearly MedMen’s approach is vastly different from what many herb purchasers are used to. There are no big glass jars of Nixon here where “they put a piece of tape around the top.” “We are influenced by Apple,” said Modlin, “their design aesthetic and attention to detail.”
I promised you product descriptions. Hold onto your spliff because MedMen sells refrigerated marijuana edibles, confections like lollipops and chocolate-covered candies (yes, in dainty tins), gourmet dog treats, ultra-discreet vape pens that fit into the palm of your hand, cannabis-infused lotions – and candy apple red MedMen-branded water bottles and t-shirts, their signature white cannabis leaf graphic emblazoned upon them.
You may wonder, as I did, whether MedMen got its name from the Jon Hamm TV series “Mad Men.” Nope. Modlin and CEO/co-founder Adam Bierman have worked together for about ten years. They ran a marketing agency called ModMan (Kreation Juice was a client). They took “the first three letters of my name and the last three letters of Adam’s name,” Modlin said.
After opening a pot dispensary in downtown LA called MedMan (the singular version), they knew they would expand. So they went plural.
WeHo is MedMen’s flagship location and opened in April 2016. “This was our first dispensary with the design that we put into it,” Modlin said. The city’s progressive politics make it a good fit, as does the diversity of its population. “There’s a lot of potential customers in WeHo.”
But there is more to it than that. Much more.
“WeHo actually has city licensing,” said Modlin, “which Los Angeles doesn’t have yet. That’s part of that push to [January 1] 2018,” referring to when California’s Proposition 64, which 56% of voters passed last November, takes effect.
The city’s licensing “really was a great opportunity,” Modlin said, “because five years ago we removed ourselves from Los Angeles to focus on states with licenses.” Why? “Because it was impossible to get investors.”
Speaking of which, Daniel Yi, MedMen’s director of communications, told me the company just completed its first round of equity financing, raising $60 million in about ten months. The funds will be used to expand MedMen state by state, both in terms of operating retail storefronts as well as offering its signature management model – “from seed to sale” – to growers.
MedMen operates 10 facilities in three states: California, Nevada and New York.
“Everything starts with a license,” Yi said. And, right now, because there is no federal law, each state decides how, or if, it wants to sell pot. (Currently, recreational use of marijuana is legal in eight states, in 29 states for medical, according to Yi.)
But here’s what many WeHo residents may not understand: “We’re a nonprofit that operates in the city of West Hollywood,” Modlin said. “And WeHo has four dispensary licenses.”
Wait. Nonprofit? “Yeah,” Modlin said with a light laugh, seeming to have expected my question.
Yi jumped in. “Just to be clear MedMen is a for-profit company,” he said. “The entity that holds the license to operate this establishment in the city of West Hollywood is a nonprofit collective.”
It all has to do with Proposition 215, a 1996 law that made medical marijuana legal. “Nonprofit collectives have the right to cultivate, manufacture and distribute,” said Yi, “so the cities had to come up with a licensing structure.” And that means “they’re called collectives and they’re nonprofits.”
MedMen is involved with WeHo in terms of marketing, too. “We do Pride and different events,” Modlin said.
And the company has their “Being Alive” program “where we donate to HIV and AIDS patients free medicine,” said Modlin.
Growing, distributing and selling pot across the U.S. (and internationally) are MedMen’s long-term objectives. “My goal for this company,” said Modlin, “is to build the same types of stores, the same types of manufacturers and cultivations in as many places as possible.”
Modlin sees his brand, and what he’s doing, as being “on the forefront of marijuana.”
His timing may be good. “People are aware that [pot] exists and that it’s being monitored in some way,” Modlin said, “and [this] makes people much more comfortable with it.”
Does he have proof? “My parents,” said Modlin, “who were very much against marijuana, now are willing to eat a gummy bear or smoke a vape pen once in a while.”
MedMen West Hollywood
8208 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046