It’s finally happening: Pot is at a tipping point. Thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, and 10 states and Canada have legalized recreational use. Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz extoll CBD oils, Francis Ford Coppola is starting a cannabis line, and Molson Coors is looking into nonalcoholic cannabis-infused beverages. (Another sign: More and more people are calling pot by its classier name, cannabis.)
It’s still a volatile market, but the so-called Global Cannabis Stock Index, an exchange for the industry, is gaining traction—a Canadian cannabis ETF reached $1 billion in assets last year—and millions of dollars are pouring into companies like Aurora and the Cronos Group. Meanwhile, Constellation Brands (brewer of Corona beer and distributor of Robert Mondavi wine) announced in November that it will invest another $4 billion in the diversified cannabis company Canopy Growth Corporation.
“The whole U.S. is going to go legal eventually,” says Eric Hippeau, of venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau, an early investor in marijuana startups. “There are projections of $50 billion in the next decade.”
In the middle of this green rush, Adam Bierman and Andrew Modlin stand apart, and not just because they look more like Don Draper than Jeff Spicoli when they’re on CNBC preaching the gospel of grass. They are the CEO and president, respectively, of MedMen, which in eight years has become the largest cannabis company in the U.S., with a valuation of $1.65 billion after going public last spring. “This is not mom-and-pop; this is serious capital,” Hippeau says. “It’s a testament that MedMen is attracting well-funded entrepreneurs.”
The company may end up becoming the Starbucks of pot; it already has flagships on Santa Monica Boulevard and Fifth Avenue. Bierman and Modlin will soon own 69 licenses across the country and will open many more storefronts this year. “There’s going to be a ribbon cutting every week,” Modlin jokes. “We are witnessing the end of prohibition,” says Bierman.
With the destigmatization of weed spreading nationwide, Bierman, 36, and Modlin, 31, are seizing the moment in the manner of Jobs and Wozniak in the ’70s. They’re making marijuana upscale, and their stores and digital platforms are not unlike Apple hubs: places where urbanites buy well-designed, aspirational products that pair well with fitness boutiques, CSAs, and kombucha beer. The slogan of one MedMen marketing campaign: “Forget stoner.”
“For us, it’s about how do we mainstream marijuana where people are ok with other people knowing,” Modlin said.
“I started the business purely for the opportunity,” says Bierman, “but [also] for the medical efficacy, seeing how it touched people. The concept we use as a company is: Why not? Forget the societal constructs and norms, what the world is trying to tell you to do. Let every person decide how they want to live.”
Bierman, a former poli-sci major who once had pro baseball aspirations, and Modlin, who studied painting at UCLA, started a health and wellness design company called ModMen in 2008. (They met at Bierman’s earlier outfit, where Modlin was a 21-year-old intern.) One fateful afternoon they ran into the owner of a dispensary, and she explained how much money she was making. They had an a-ha moment. “We made the o an e and started MedMen,” Modlin says. They had no experience in the pot market, no Harvard Business School degrees, and Adam hadn’t smoked much since eighth grade.
“We were twenty somethings with no network, no wives, husbands or kids,” says Bierman. “We just saw opportunity and attacked it.”
Beyond persuasive marketing and attractive products (with names like Awake, Calm, and Zzz), Bierman and Modlin’s savviest move was unraveling the regulatory knots facing a business whose main product remains illegal under federal law. They didn’t play just in California; they focused on obtaining licenses in more heavily regulated states, like Massachusetts, where licenses are limited, by strategically acquiring established dispensaries.
“Adam knew that this [state-by-state variations] was the way of the future,” explains Modlin, who just bought a modern house in West Hollywood for a cool $3.89 million, a few blocks away from one of MedMen’s flagship L.A. dispensaries.
Along with uncanny timing, Bierman and Modlin have become evangelists in the new Age of Pot Enlightenment. “The phobia of telling people you smoke weed is over,” says Bierman, who is married and has two kids age 3 and 5. “I was at my kids’ soccer game, and a group of moms went over to the side of the field to smoke their vape pens. No one cared. Marijuana is coming out of the shadows, and now we can do it together.”
The barons of bud. The sultans of sinsemilla. The dukes of dank.
Bruce Linton (above center). The CEO of Canada's Canopy Group, the world's largest cannabis company (at press time), may look like an off-duty Scandinavian Bureaucrat, but he took his operation from an abandoned warehouse in Ottawa to production in six countries and an estimated worth of more than $10 billion.
Michael Gorenstein (above left). The Ohioan was in the Wharton/corporate law/hedge fund pipeline before becoming a medical marijuana titan. His Cronos Group was the first pot firm to trade on a major U.S. exchange; it has been valued at $2 billion. Hopefully, he'll bring weed-infused buckeyes home for the holiday–once it's legal to do so.
Christian Groh, Brendan Kennedy, and Michael Blue. A three-headed hydra of herb, the men behind the private equity firm Privateer Holdings, based in Seattle, employ 350 people in seven countries and are responsible for funding numerous pot startups, including Leafly (the largest cannabis information source in the world), Tilray (the first government certified medical cannabis producer), and Marley Natural (a product line run by Bob Marley's daughter). Worth at least $2.4 billion each, they may not be growers, but they are definitely showers.
Jason Spatafora (above right). The brains behind Marijuana Stocks.com, the so-called Wolf of Weed Street (yes, that's his Twitter handle) is tracking equities, attending trade conferences in Las Vegas, and bloviating about the industry in a constant stream of quips. Think of him as the Mad Money guy of marijuana.
The leading female lights in the male-dominated world of big marijuana.
Whoopi Goldberg, Amber Rose, Melissa Etheridge. As evidence of its distance from its commie-hippie roots, the cannabis business is not immune to the power of celebrity, and these famous women have wisely cross-stitched their names onto successful companies that produce weed-infused bath products, wine tinctures, and champagne-toned vape pens. SJP's CBD shoe line is sure to follow.
Brooke Gehring. Think of her as pot's Arianna Huffington, connecting and empowering other female “ganja-preneurs.” Her Colorado growing facilities bring in more than $10 million a year.
Amber E. Senter. Co-founder of Leisure Life, a popular Bay Area edibles company, and also of “Supernova Women”, which holds “cannabis business bootcamps” to empower people of color in the cannabis industry.
Nancy Whiteman. A 60-year-old Ivy League MBA and former marketing exec, she co-founded and co-owns Wana Brands, the best-selling edibles purveyor in Colorado. Don't let her sensible bob and Camry hybrid fool you: She is the stealth mind behind some of the dankest treats on the legal market. Her neon vegan sour gummies have been known to bring grown men to their knees–which probably explains how she can run her company with her ex-husband!
The Future Is Luxury Pot
With legalization comes money, and with that come deliriously rarefied versions of everything on High Maintenance. Americans and Canadians spent about $9.2 million in 2017 on legal pot and dope-adjacent accessories like these, which are pricier than anything you smoked sophomore year.
Life Flower Flowerchild CBD Bath Bomb. Soak in this and you'll feel lithe and natural, like Zoë Kravitz, earth goddess, in the last scene of Big Little Lies.
Lord Jones X Sigur Rós Limited Edition CBD Gumdrops. Perfect for a confident, relaxing stroll on the brambly path outside your Reykjavik Airbnb before your Scandinavian TED talk.
Pure Kana Premium Mint Oil Drops. A relaxing, high-CBD sublingual blend that will induce you to order not one but three creamy polenta entrees from Blue Apron, and hire a TaskRabbit to put it all together.
Silverpeak Blue Dream Bubble Infused Full Size Preroll. If you smoke the entire thing, you will hallucinate Barack Obama is still president. Your emotio-political mileage may vary.
Kana Lavender Hemp Sleep Mask. Great for the skin–and for calming that night-time anxiety about your roller-coastering stock portfolio and/or how long it will take for pot to be federally legalized.
Pot Jell-O. Why not? It's totally going to be the next cheap thing to go high-end. Organic cannabis-infused Jell-O is very 2019. People will pay gobs of money for it, like they did for kombucha and bone broth in 2018.
This story appears in the February 2019 issue of Town & Country. Subscribe Now