MedMen’s spectacular collapse is complete: Five years after its $3 billion valuation, the one-time legal cannabis darling has declared bankruptcy

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Six years after an IPO that saw its valuation peak at over $3 billion, cannabis retailer MedMen is worth next to nothing. Its bankruptcy petition, filed in California court late on Friday, is the nail in the coffin for what’s been a stunning fall from grace for a company whose troubles speak to broader challenges in the legal cannabis industry.

“MedMen has been ‘DeadMen’ to most investors for a long time,” cannabis industry analyst Alan Brochstein told Fortune. “The world should have seen this coming, but not everybody did.”

MedMen was quick to enter the legal cannabis market once California legalized recreational cannabis use in 2016. Initially hailed as the “Apple store of weed,” MedMen retail stores incorporated “sleek branding” and a “high-end design aesthetic,” according to a 2022 investor presentation

Seeking to capitalize on expectations of a legal cannabis demand boom, MedMen opened expensive storefronts in areas including Venice Beach, New York’s Fifth Avenue and right off the Las Vegas strip, riding a wave of favorable press and public enthusiasm about legal cannabis.

Led by co-founder and CEO Adam Bierman, who started the company when he was in his twenties, MedMen went public in 2018 at just above $3 a share in June 2018, and hungry investors sent its share price to more than double that by the end of the year. 

Encouraged by its early success, MedMen set its sights on scaling up: It took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and pursued a massive $682 million merger with competitor PharmaCann

But the deal fell apart after the Department of Justice announced it would investigate the merger on antitrust grounds, and MedMen struggled to pay back its creditors as the broader cannabis market soured and investors pulled back amidst worries that hazardous vape cartridges would lead to more regulation in the cannabis market.

“They went public in 2018. And by the time we got to 2020, [MedMen] was in big trouble,” Brochstein said. “They took on too much debt, and kind of over-promised.”

MedMen’s stock tanked throughout 2019, losing 92% of its value as the retailer struggled to keep up with high tax payments and compete with unlicensed sellers who undercut its prices. The pandemic generated a boom in demand, though, giving MedMen and some other cannabis retailers a lifeline through 2020.

“The world learned that if you let people off of work so they’re not drug tested…[and] give them money, what are they going to do? Get high all the time,” Brochstein said. “The cannabis industry did better than anybody would have expected in 2020.”

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough. At one point, MedMen operated 25 branches across the country and touted plans to expand internationally. Today, all but two are closed for good. Bierman was forced out early in 2020, following multiple high-profile lawsuits accusing him and fellow executives of racism, pumping the company’s stock, and misuse of company funds to fund a lavish lifestyle that included private security and customized Cadillac Escalades.

“Is it a one-off thing? No, unfortunately, it’s not,” Brochstein said. “I think what it tells you is that people can get overly enamored of stores, or products, or things like that, without doing the due diligence. This company has been a disaster from day one.”

MedMen’s bankruptcy filing, where it disclosed over $400 million in liabilities, is the final chapter in the company’s spectacular collapse. High interest rates and bitter investor sentiment prevented it from refinancing its debt obligations, and the company even stopped filing disclosures with the SEC

“The capital markets were cut off for them, so they couldn’t fix their old mistakes,” Brochstein said.

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