The cannabis industry is still in its infancy, with consumers and professionals alike working diligently to be the change they want to see as it continues growing. Karen Torres, the chief product officer at multi-state cannabis dispensary chain
Torres oversees supply chain operations, buying, merchandising and marketing for MedMen, after working in supply chain management for several multibillion-dollar firms. She’s climbed the ladder at the company, starting as the director of logistics back in 2019 and holding a number of positions since, including chair on the company’s Board of Diversity & Inclusion.
According to its website, “MedMen was founded with the vision to de-stigmatize cannabis by offering an accessible and welcoming shopping environment because a world where cannabis is legal and regulated is safer, healthier and happier.”
As a queer Latina herself, Torres has approached her roles at MedMen with a commitment to that ethos, specifically centering diversity and inclusion. As a leading cannabis retailer in the United States, she understands the impact of creating change from the inside.
“I definitely believe that we have a huge responsibility to ensure that we represent diversity across all channels,” Torres said, “in our product assortment, the stories that we share about the initiatives that matter to us, in identifying the consumer needs and wants and how we ensure that, when people walk through our doors, they have a variety of products that will cater to that.”
An Intriguing Entry into the Unfamiliar Cannabis Industry
For a good portion of her professional career in a traditional business setting, she avoided cannabis use due to stringent drug testing. Even though she wasn’t using it herself, she never had any opinions of cannabis or cannabis users. Growing up where cannabis use was fairly common, seeing friends and peers using it routinely, it was always around, just not really part of her life.
After spending just over 15 years building a career in supply chain management, she was introduced to a MedMen employee while the company was in “hyper-growth mode.”
“They needed help, you know, figuring out how to get their product from point A to point B and kind of how to build out supply chain infrastructure in this regulated environment, and the rest is history,” she said.
As a new cannabis professional and novice consumer, Torres entered the industry intrigued. She recalled her initial interest in cannabis as a business, only to be truly immersed in the vast world of medicinal and recreational cannabis and the wide array of
“I started to really understand and learn, and I think I absolutely started to build a passion for the product, the plant, what it does and having access to this,” Torres said.
Currently, Torres uses cannabis for
“Very much like, you know, those who enjoy a glass of wine; I enjoy a cannabis beverage with my dinner most nights. It helps me calm the mind and be present,” Torres said.
Promoting Growth in the Blossoming Cannabis Biz
Even though she’s been at MedMen just short of four years, it was a period of immense growth, not only for the company but for
Torres’ initial role as director of logistics had her focusing on company development and overseeing profound change before taking on her role as VP of product strategy and operations and her current role, which she secured in October 2022, as chief product officer.
“It’s been an awesome experience to see the
In applying her previous experience to this new industry, albeit tricky, Torres pointed to the “exponential growth” it has provided her on a personal and professional level. It’s not solely her own journey, either — part of the gratification is due to the work of her teammates and colleagues, “all the things that we get to accomplish on a daily basis in this ever-changing industry, it’s just really rewarding.”
Shortly after starting at MedMen, Torres also took on a role as chair on MedMen’s Board of Diversity & Inclusion. At the time, leadership in the company took a stance to ensure that it had a strong focus on diversity and inclusion. Torres was in charge of facilitating segments for MedMen’s internal teams, to bring to fruition all the initiatives they were passionate about and form partnerships in tandem.
Torres continues to bring that same energy to her role as chief product officer, doing her part to ensure the MedMen products represent brands owned and operated by a multitude of folks, like
“We’re passionate about ensuring that these brands, a lot of them small businesses, get an opportunity to be on our shelves, to have a level playing ground with the brands, that have the bigger operations or the bigger marketing budgets,” Torres said. “And as a retailer in this industry, it’s important that we help these brands get the exposure that they need to continue to grow and elevate.”
An Inside Job: Authentically Centering Diversity in Cannabis
In March 2023, MedMen released the results of a new survey, conducted online by The Harris Poll on its behalf, finding that 37 percent of American women over the age of 21 consume cannabis. The survey also found that 65 percent of women cannabis consumers said there are people in their lives that still don’t know they use cannabis, pointing to the prevailing
When the results were released, Torres said, while women are increasingly turning to cannabis for health and wellness needs, it’s clear that stigmas continue to inhibit them from fully sharing their experiences.
“The face of the cannabis consumer is changing, and so is the face of MedMen,” Torres said in a
For Torres, this means ensuring MedMen’s brands and partnerships represent a diverse set of products catering to the equally diverse array of cannabis consumers. She said that starts with internal diversity, making sure that the people making buying decisions are an accurate representation of everyone in the consumer base.
“I believe that the survey we ran was a good start there, right, and truly understanding, in this case, what this demographic thinks, what they need, how they feel,” Torres said. “This data helps us identify the new product lines and the brand partners that we’re creating, that are
As a queer woman of color herself, Torres’ experience in the industry so far has been positive, especially affirming as she couldn’t always say the same regarding other roles from her past. She recalled a leadership roundtable at MedMen a couple years back, when everyone was asked what they like about working at MedMen and what keeps them working there.
“My answer was super sincere and genuine,” Torres said. “It was, you know, I feel proud to work for a company that has created a space for me to show up every day as my full self. I get to be me, as a queer woman of color, and have a seat at a very powerful table, where my views and experiences are welcome.”
Torres said that MedMen takes it further, ensuring it incorporates those perspectives into the company model, to continue growing and improving as an organization.
“And this honestly has also been my experience across the board in this industry,” she added. “The partnerships and relationships I’ve built in this industry have been positive in this regard.”
Karen Torres on Learning, Leading and Looking Forward
On top of leading a huge cannabis company, Torres is also a certified life and career coach, having mentored hundreds of young professionals, helping them to advance in their
Formally working in the field for five years, Torres said that she is committed to growth and self development, and one of her main passions is helping other people to develop and become the “best version of themselves.” Those skills were perfected during her time at MedMen, built as she continued her journey with leadership over the past few years.
It goes both directions as well, as Torres admitted her work as a life coach has influenced her role in the cannabis industry, too. Whether it’s working directly with her own teams or working with brands, Torres aims to understand the obstacles folks in the industry face. A brand, for example, is going to have a completely unique set of issues that Torres wants to understand, to work forward together with the proper solution.
“That’s the goal, how do we work together to get the best results for whatever it is that we’re trying to accomplish?” Torres posed. “And we do that by exploring, what do we need to do? Where are we trying to get to? I think all the experience in formal training, but just over the years and building teams and creating solutions, which is, you know, a big part of what I do. You know, that’s truly what makes me wanna show up every day.”
MedMen, and Torres, aren’t planning to slow down any time soon, either. The company currently has dispensaries in Arizona,
While she was unable to go into further detail, Torres nodded to “some really exciting launches to come here in the next couple months.” In the meantime, she said MedMen routinely brings in new products, consistently looking to innovate, and encouraged consumers to come experience the store’s “top-notch hospitality experience and check out what we’re doing.”
Torres added that she’d love to see more representation in the industry as a whole, “more LGBTQ people, more BIPOC, more women in executive leadership roles,” especially as the industry continues to expand in all the emerging markets.
“I think as the industry matures, the talent pool will be there. And my hope is that, as the talent pool continues to expand, that we not only promote those that have been in the trenches during this infancy of an industry but that we also attract talent from traditional sectors.”
Overall, Torres is excited to imagine where the space is heading.
“Here’s what I do know, is that I think we’re all learning,” she said. “This has been a hyper-growth industry, and with the landscape that we’re in from a regulatory standpoint, we’re all learning and growing. So, we’re only going to get better and stronger.”