new york's first luxury cannabis store is the barneys of weed

Get high on fifth avenue at MedMen.

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May 28 2018, 3:57pm

You might expect a slew of stoners inside. Or maybe a crowd of kids looking to get high, peering in at colorful bongs before walking into MedMen’s brand new New York City location directly across the street from the historic Lord & Taylor flagship between 38th and 39th street at Fifth Avenue. The city’s first luxury cannabis store is rather the stark opposite. Sleek, modern tables fill the open space with tinctures, gel capes, and vape pens under glass, while iPads are stationed to help shoppers (or the curious visitor) choose a product based on their individual needs from a wellness standpoint. The goal, rather than get stoned, is to provide solutions ranging from stress relief to curing insomnia. And the throngs of people inside (and looking in from outside) are just as varied. Tourists, locals, senior citizens, club kids, and men in suits all stop to take a look at the new presence on Fifth Avenue.

With locations already in California and Nevada, the opening of MedMen Fifth Avenue is major news since it’s the first store of its kind in the city, and it’s positioning itself to be “the Starbucks of Cannabis.” For now, because of New York state laws, the store is quite limited in who it services. MedMen is one of only three dispensaries legally permitted to operate in Manhattan. It serves only medical patients registered with the New York State Medical Marijuana Program who have an active NYS registry ID card. Some may call the store more of a statement and careful plotting for the future of legalization, though the Fifth Avenue location has been almost a decade in the making since founders Adam Bierman and Andrew Modlin started MedMen in 2010.

There is also the possibility, according to reps, that the store may include products ranging from the popular CBD oil to cannabis-infused lifestyle, beauty, and pet products in the future.

We spoke with Daniel Yi, senior vice president of communications (and the official spokesman) at MedMen, about what it was like opening the city’s first chic cannabis store, what’s next for the company, and what the future of legalization looks like.

Why open a luxury marijuana store on Fifth Avenue?
In some ways, we have been planning this for nearly a decade. You can look around and see what the other companies are doing and they are very medical in their messaging and brand. We are more about wellness and using this to help people have safer, happier, and healthier lives. It is more degrees of uses than just black and white, if that makes sense. We want to treat cannabis as a consumer product. We want to give the customer a nice, safe environment for them to shop and have confidence that they are getting a high quality, reputable product.

In an atmosphere where stores are shuttering every single day, why choose a brick and mortar marijuana store over e-commerce?
I was having this conversation earlier today with someone who was asking about our billboard campaign here in California. In California, we have the “Anti-Stoner Campaign.” We have 25 billboards and buildings all around the LA metropolitan area. We have over a million dollars of media by those billboards, with print advertising weekly in L.A. Weekly and L.A. Magazine — it is a $3 million dollar marketing and advertising campaign. Why are we spending that kind of money on palpable tangible advertising? Because it is palpable, right? At a store you can actually see it with your own eyes. At the store in Manhattan, you can see the execution of our concepts in real life.

Given the laws in New York, the store seems pretty limited right now. Is the store more of a political statement, or are there actually a lot of sales?
From what I have heard from the sales staff there, that one store in Manhattan is doing more business than all of our other three stores combined. I actually heard that there are lines out the door sometimes. I don't know if they are all shoppers or people who are curious bystanders that just want to come check out the store.

What’s the vibe like in the California locations given the laws? Is it a lot wilder?
The vibe is the same. That was the point of us putting the store in Manhattan. It was creating the concept of the store that already exists. A lot of people in New York came to the store to say, ‘Well do you think this will actually catch on?’ I couldn't help but smile and say, ‘What do you mean, we have seven stores exactly like this, and they are going bonkers!’ This is not a shot in the dark. We know this concept works.

The last time I checked, New Yorkers and Californians they are a little different, but they're still American. We are still living under the same culture. So, we are very confident. It is a similar vibe, but the same concept.

What do you think the future of the industry looks like here in New York?
I can look to what is already happening in other states. Look at California; we had 20 years of medical marijuana and now we have just started adult-use. Colorado has had four years of adult-use sales. Because the regulations are so different, it is hard to predict exactly how New York will evolve.

At the business side, again we are going from something that was listed as illegal, to becoming regulated and legal. You cannot create an entire framework overnight. Medical marijuana gives you that. New York now has an agency, an infrastructure to legalize, license, and manage companies like MedMen. Once that happens, you have the framework.

What’s the next step for legalization?
The next step for New York will be the legalization of adult-use, like what happened in California and Massachusetts. You will see a lot of discussion on what the regulations should do, what kind of products will be allowed, and what kind of requirements companies should have before they can qualify for licenses. Where can dispensaries open? In California, there is now a law in the books that cannabis dispensaries cannot be within a thousand feet of schools.

So, that will be the next phase for New York. It is actually quite surprising when you look at the long-term. New York will be much like California where you will have a highly regulated cannabis industry.