The cofounder of California marijuana conglomerate MedMen, which last week scored a coveted contract from the administration of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh to open a recreational pot shop in the Fenway, defiantly dismissed a series of disturbing allegations made by a former top executive at the firm.
Speaking on stage Tuesday at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s “Seed to Sale” convention in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, MedMen chief executive Adam Bierman told an audience of approximately 1,000 that accusations of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and financial misconduct contained in a recent lawsuit brought by former MedMen chief financial officer James Parker were “absolutely silly and disgusting.”
He argued similar accusations against a non-cannabis company would draw little notice and said investors would ultimately stick with MedMen because of its strong business fundamentals.
“This guy wants to blackmail me and wants all this money — I say, ‘Sue me,’ and he puts out all this incendiary stuff,” Bierman complained. “I don’t think that the [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezoses of the world had to deal with that when they were building their companies.”
MedMen, which is based in Culver City, Calif., and trades publicly on the Canadian Stock Exchange, owns 31 high-end medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries around the United States and is in the process of opening nearly 50 more — including in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.
The allegations prompted the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association on Sunday to expel MedMen, which operates a glitzy dispensary on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and holds one of that state’s 10 medical marijuana licenses.
The company has long faced criticism from cannabis advocacy groups over its business practices and treatment of employees. But Parker’s lawsuit, filed in a state court in Los Angeles in January, puts a new, harsh spotlight on the alleged behavior of Bierman and MedMen cofounder and president Andrew Modlin.
In the suit, Parker described MedMen as a “cult of personality” centered on Bierman and Modlin, who he says treated the firm as their personal “piggy bank.” Parker said the executives ordered him to spend millions of dollars of investor funds on extravagances such as around-the-clock armed security guards, high-tech safe rooms, and security systems for their new homes, personal drivers, private jets, luxury hotels, customized cars, and $300,000-plus company salaries for Bierman’s personal therapist and marriage counselor.
Perhaps more concerning to investors, Parker said Bierman and Modlin told him to wire hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Canadian consultant for the purpose of buying up MedMen stock “when it is under attack,” paid illegal “success fees” to unlicensed brokers who helped the company raise funds, and illegally obscured their true compensation from investors.
The former financial executive further accused Bierman and Modlin of boorish behavior and offensive remarks in the workplace, saying the pair ridiculed his appearance as “fat and sloppy,” frequently used misogynistic epithets, called Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson a “midget negro,” and labeled a prominent activist from the national Drug Policy Alliance a “fat, black lesbian.”
But a confident Bierman, interviewed on stage by moderator Seth Adler, brushed aside the charges as “noise” — though he said that he would simply “spend more time with my kids” if he were fired as chief executive because of the scandal. Bierman went on to counter the accusations of bigotry by noting that his wife is Latina and that Modlin is gay.
“Although it’s a labor dispute, he adds all this salacious stuff about me,” Bierman said of Parker. “I’m a homophobe; I’m a racist; I’m a misogynist — like, way to hit all three buckets, buddy. Now, in the real world, in a mature business, nobody pays attention to that. As you know, my business partner’s gay. . . . We are probably one of the most diverse companies in the world . . . and nobody’s ever called me any of those things before. But now I have to deal with that. Now I have to go home and I have to explain to my Latina wife and my Spanish-speaking kids why I’m being called racist at work. . . . It’s absurd.”
Bierman suggested MedMen and other cannabis companies have been forced to go public in Canada prematurely to raise money because the drug is federally illegal in the United States.
“These are not mature businesses that have been through life cycles, and gone from Day 1 to a very mature buttoned-up institution that then goes public through Goldman Sachs on the New York Stock Exchange,” he said.
Mayor Walsh’s office declined to comment. City officials recently told the Globe that MedMen’s local operation had pledged to hire a diverse workforce and donate $1 million plus 0.5 percent of its gross annual revenue to a new nonprofit that will conduct workforce development and training for the disenfranchised.
MedMen must still secure final zoning approval from Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal and win a license from the state Cannabis Control Commission before it can open its Fenway shop.
The commission conducts extensive background checks of applicants for recreational pot licenses, including a review of pending lawsuits and media stories regarding each firm’s owners; the agency retains broad legal discretion to reject applicants it deems “unsuitable” for licensure.