Back in October, we wrote about two new, chic media properties centered around weed and targeting millennial women: Broccoli and Gossamer, which had been profiled by Vogue and Business of Fashion, respectively. This week, another new title joins their ranks: Ember is a print magazine born out of a collaboration between Paper and MedMen — the latter a rapidly growing marijuana dispensary chain based in recently-legalized Los Angeles that has been valued at $1 billion.
The project is fully funded by (and thus, essentially sponsored content with) MedMen, whose goal, from a marketing perspective, is to propel the growth and acceptance of marijuana by destigmatizing it and presenting it as a normal part of anyone's lifestyle — not just something for stoners. The editorial content, from writing to imagery, is conceptualized with and overseen by Paper staff, who lend it the indie, subversive, art-y cred it's known for. In a changing time for print media and substances that are legal, it's a partnership that works for both sides.
"Pot is Pop Culture, and finally we are seeing it legalized and new ways to consume it. It is not just about smoking anymore," said Paper Creative Director Drew Elliott in a statement. "This magazine is going to open your eyes to a whole new point of view on pot, and let's just say, it's not what you think…it's even better."
"Advertising is a bit of a challenge because it's still in its infancy for cannabis; so many things are controlled by the FCC obviously, so from a print perspective, the big conglomerates, they're not there yet on a national level," explains MedMen CMO BJ Carretta. As far as established magazines that do discuss cannabis, like High Times and Dope, the team didn't see them as the right fit: "nothing that really spoke to our audience and what I think is the larger cannabis space, more the mainstream groups. One of our cofounders, Adam brought it up and he was like, 'Why don’t we just do our own?' And I was like, 'That's a brilliant idea." He describes Ember's target as a "21-45 year old who's a little more into culture." He also says he's aware of Broccoli and Gossamer and does not work with them currently, but wouldn't rule it out in the future.
In addition to spotlights on product, the magazine's story subjects include model-musician Kacy Hill, fashion-adjacent tattoo artist and weed entrepreneur Scott Cambell and chef Neal Fraser, among others. While their interviews don't all explicitly center around marijuana, it's usually referenced. MedMen also sells ad space in the magazine to other marijuana brands. Copies will be available for free at MedMen locations, and there are plans to produce four to six issues per year.
MedMen, if you're haven't experienced one of its many LA locations (a New York outpost is also on the way) is often and pretty accurately described as the Apple Store of weed: Typically, dispensaries are windowless, cramped, dark spaces that just feel a little dodgy even if what you're doing in them is totally (or, at least regionally) legal. MedMen operates behind floor-to-ceiling windows in bright, airy spaces filled with iPads and helpful staff to provide any info you may need on whatever strain or delivery method of marijuana you're interested in, sending customers home with product in Instagram-friendly, red, zip-locked packaging. It's pioneering the idea that shopping for weed can be a chic experience.
Marijuana is now legal in various forms across 30 states, and it lends itself particularly well to the wellness movement that's already prevalent in LA, and marijuana/fashion/beauty connections and partnerships are already frequent. A number of beauty products incorporate CBD, and Lord Jones, a luxury cannabis company, will soon have CBD-infused products stocked in The Standard hotel minibars. Next week, the brand is hosting a "medicated soundbath and guided meditation" at the hip chain's Hollywood location; I've also been invited to "medicated" yoga classes. Designer Rachel Comey recently hosted a launch event for Broccoli at her LA store on Melrose Place; nearby, at Moon Juice, customers can order CBD-infused matcha lattes. Last year, the New York Times called Campbell's luxury cannabis brand Beboe "The Hermès of Marijuana." I, a fashion editor, have been gifted a number of cannabis products by MedMen, which is repped by a PR company that has also hosted me at events for a lingerie retailer and a chic vitamin startup, to give an idea of the space MedMen is trying to occupy.
There are also more women getting into the cannabis space than ever before, but it's worth noting that there is still a racial disparity in marijuana, the criminalization of which has historically put far more black people in jail than white people. In 2016, only 1 percent of dispensaries were owned by black people.
Caretta expects that cannabis will only become more intertwined with the fashion and beauty realms as people become more educated about it, especially regarding the benefits of CBD. "I think a couple of the bigger, more mainstream beauty brands will eventually get into the CBD part," he says. And as far as marketing, influencers could become a big opportunity. Personally, I have seen a few LA-based influencers touting MedMen packages on Instagram, but the company says it has not yet engaged in paid partnerships with them. "We're approached nonstop by mainstream influencers to do stuff, but we haven't pulled the trigger on it yet because anytime you get into the influencer space you've got to do it the right way," says Carretta.
Plus, he's thinking even bigger than that. "Our objective is, it goes all the way to the finish line and it becomes something you see next to fashion brands in magazines or CPG brands, on TV, primetime programing and sports programming," he says. "That's the goal at the end of the day."