Bigger than Purple, more powerful than Kush, Cookies has become the biggest name in cannabis over the past five years, and it remains the best-known strain — which is to say, it’s the biggest name in the nascent weed game to date. Even California purists can’t avoid this craze.
The story of how the brand initially began is as simple as it is brilliant. On a road trip to Los Angeles, running short on clothes, Berner and his manager, Will Bronson, went shopping but could not find anything that fit his XXXL-plus frame.
One day, his rap career not quite off the ground but with more weed than anybody needed, Berner walked into Milk Bar on Haight Street and ran into The Jacka. After praising the elder rapper’s music, Berner handed Jacka a fistful of weed — and Jacka was impressed enough to give Berner his number. In 2008, the pair recorded a record together, Drought Season, but the reception was brutal. On TheSiccness.net, somebody posted a custom cut of the album, with all of Berner’s verses cut out. “Before I ever heard of Berner, I heard of people hating on him,” Thizzler.com’s Werner says. “You’d hear, ‘Berner sucks.’ It was crazy.’”
Behind the authenticity is a relentless drive. Fueled by anxiety, a hunger for money, the desire to retire young, or all of the above, it’s the same drive that led him to keep recording rhymes and approaching rappers, after the internet critics on Siccness tried to shame him. The hustle has everything where it is today: the clothes, the store, the branded smoking gear, Hemp2o (which, as far as I can tell, is his sole source of beef; his former partner, who says he was verbally promised a bigger cut, is suing him); a pair of apps, one of which is in negotiations with Universal for distribution; stakes in companies like pre-roll manufacturer California’s Finest, which just dropped its official Jimi Hendrix-licensed “Purple Haze” cannabis cigarettes; and the music career, which continues to gain momentum.
This eventually led to the big time. In 2010, Berner got a call from Mistah F.A.B., another longtime established Bay Area rapper. This cat named Wiz Khalifa was coming through town; could Wiz come by and get some weed?
“If you had to kick it with me for a whole day,” he tells me later, in between fielding calls on one of two identical iPhone 6s he has on him, “you’d probably shoot yourself. I’m on the phone all day. No one can handle it.”
But since Berner’s business does not deal in marijuana per se, it can be on the books. It can use banks, make deals, and attract legitimate investment — all things that even the biggest names in an American marijuana industry transforming from underground criminal hustle to an entrepreneur’s game attracting eight-figure investments cannot do.
By appearances, you’d judge the Cookies booth a sad affair. There’s no P.A., no dab lounge with couches to crash on, no crazy signage like the two booths next door. But things are bumping. “It’s good you came through today,” Berner says, after I march up to him and am invited to sit down after the briefest of introductions. Yesterday, I hear, the mob at the booth to buy a $30 Cookies T-shirt — a riff on the Wells Fargo logo, with money sacks and weed leaves on the signature stagecoach — or the official Emerald Cup event T-shirt, an official Cookies partnership, was a constant five people deep.
A few days before, Berner’s biggest move yet was announced: the show at the Graham with Cypress Hill. He’s recorded with B-Real before and opened for Cypress Hill at the Regency Ballroom — “for free,” he notes — but this is the big one. He’s producing the show, which means he has to sell 8,500 seats.While breaking up the nug to roll another fattie — the first one ever smoked inside the store, he swears — he admits he’s stressing about it.
Berner’s cookies strain Last May, the annual Bay to Breakers shitshow started two days early in the Haight-Ashbury, right around the time a gold-painted RV rolled up in front of a Haight