Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue gets a cannabis dispensary on April 20

Midtown Manhattan gets its first medical cannabis dispensary on April 20, via MedMen. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Midtown Manhattan gets its first medical cannabis dispensary on April 20. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The medical marijuana movement hits another mainstream milestone on April 20 this year with the opening of Manhattan’s first mid-town dispensary.

The California-based dispensary chain MedMen confirmed Tuesday that they will open a 10,000 square-foot retail space for qualified medical cannabis patients at 433 Fifth Ave., near Bryant Park. The major metropolitan location will be styled like MedMen’s classic Apple store look, but carry just a handful of licensed New York medical pot products. MenMen Manhattan will serve the state’s small patient base of 49,780. That’s versus hundreds of products in an average California dispensary, where about 23 million adults 21 age and over can walk in.

But as MedMen exec Daniel Yi told me in an interview last week, now’s the time to get established in the Empire State, which could allow recreational use of cannabis in anywhere from four to eight years. New York is set to be surrounded by legalization states including Massachusetts, Vermont, and soon New Jersey.

“Some in the media say, ‘This is dumb’, but the people who are dominant in California started ten years ago,” Yi said.

The midtown Manhattan store may be short on product or customers, but it’s long on symbolism, which can be just as important. “It’s a game-changer,” Yi said.

MedMen's retail aesthetic channels Apple store vibes. Above, MedMen's Santa Ana, Calif. location.
MedMen’s retail aesthetic channels Apple store vibes. Above, the MedMen Santa Ana, Calif. location.

MedMen has the private equity funding to keep afloat for years a midtown Manhattan retail space with little inventory and scant patients. It can afford to wait for New York law to catch up with New York culture, then dominate the tightly controlled marketplace. A 2018 Siena College Poll found 56 percent of New Yorkers favor recreational legalization.

New York has a small, tightly controlled medical marijuana program, watchers say. State law forbids smoking dried, cured flower buds, the most common and affordable route of administration. Patients can still buy dried, cured flower buds and break state law by smoking them. In 2016, dispensaries opened, but shelves looked bare and patients were few and far between. In 2017, state regulators loosened rules to allow patients to buy lotions, patches, chewable tablets and lozenges.

New York has a population of almost 20 million, but 49,780 qualified patients. State regulators allow up to five companies to open up to 20 dispensaries — creating the potential for powerful oligopolies in the huge market.

MedMen started ten years ago as a cannabis marketing services agency before taking over a Los Angeles retail dispensary and offering management services to other stores. In 2017, MedMen took on $150 million in private equity funding, allowing it to expand to seven retail store in California, and Nevada, as well as diversify into cultivation. It has 700 employees. This year, MedMen announced it would be expanding into Canadian retail with the Cronos Group as well as list on the Canadian stock exchange.

Cannabis Editor |? | San Francisco Chronicle. Award-winning journalist. Best-selling author.