Actor Jesse Williams Is Fighting to Implement Real Change in His Role With MedMen

He hopes to impact laws, extend legalization and break down stigmas

Adweek's Stephanie Paterik moderates a cannabis panel with Mekanism CCO Tommy Means, actor Jesse Williams and MedMen CMO David Dancer. Chris Ariens

With the global cannabis business expected to his $130 billion by 2029, there’s room for new, innovative and meaningful marketing to support brands selling legal marijuana.

Retailer MedMen is going one further.

As revealed this afternoon at a Cannes Lions discussion, MedMen will launch a corporate responsibility program. Elements of the program will focus on expunging crimes using deep tech to seek out conviction records and implementing job creation programs. The program will launch later this summer.

“We’re giving back in a meaningful way,” said CMO David Dancer.

The panel, moderated by Adweek executive editor Stephanie Paterik, also included Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams, who is the face of the banned MedMen campaign, and Tommy Means, founder and CCO of Mekanism, the agency behind the spot.

Williams explained how “it was a little weird” when he first got the role. “I work for Disney, so telling them I was going to be the face of marijuana, it had to go through the ranks, and I got a few questionable phone calls,” he said.

Williams is more than just the face of the brand. He collaborated on casting and suggested using real people who’ve had run-ins with the law and real police officer rather than actors.

“None of them are acting because they know this moment,” said Williams. “Every single time, we’re really crying. When you lock someone up, it impacts their entire family. It’s really dense, these moments. They matter.”

He’s also committed to pushing for more legalization and rewriting the laws. “Putting people in jail? Let’s just be real. Stop bullshitting, and let’s just start over.”

And while the two-minute Spike Jonze-directed spot is banned from playing on most media, Dancer said it is available on some connected TVs. “But even that was a challenge,” he said.

Not being able to air the ad “almost draws more attention,” said Williams.

“It is kind of the Wild West,” Means said. “There are no rules on how to approach it. … We could not say the word ‘cannabis’ in the spot, and we could not show it. If any regulators come at us, we could say, ‘We’re not talking about cannabis; we’re talking about hemp.'”

“We believe legalization is going to create a happy, healthier place,” said Dancer.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.