This interview was originally published in September 2020.
For Cookies drop #10, our marketing guy Renier Fee decided to bring it full circle and talk to Berner, the founder and CEO of Cookies, about his early career, favorite strains, and music. Selfishly, we also get perspective on why CULTA made the cut as Cookies only East Coast partner. He gave our cultivation team a 5-star rating. What else is there to say? Let's celebrate.
I'm going to start off the interview with a standard pandemic question, which is “How are you holding up during COVID-19?”
I mean, it's definitely a test of someone's mind. You've got to just keep yourself busy and try to work from home. But I've been good. I've been just having a lot of family time and just kind of getting some time to myself, but definitely ready to get back out in the world.
Well, I see from your IG account that you're keeping yourself properly groomed, which is nice. Not too many sweatpants, I hope?
No, man. Shorts. Comfy shorts.
Has your business been affected during the crisis?
The only business that's really been affected is the music business. Not being able to travel or to tour or do shows, stuff like that. But the marijuana business and the clothing business has been pretty stable.
That's great. Yeah, same with CULTA. We’re very fortunate to be an essential business during these times. Take me back to the beginning. How did you get into cannabis?
I smoked it for the first time when I was like 13 or 14. I’ve just been obsessed with it. Growing up in San Francisco and seeing the medical dispensaries kind of started an obsession with wanting to go inside one. And so as soon as I turned 18 and got my card and started filming a documentary on the dispensary I was going to, and then they asked me to work for them and it kind of started there.
That’s awesome. And you put in your time in the trenches as a budtender too, right?
For sure, yeah.
When did you realize that you'd rather be an owner than an employee?
You know, my parents always told me to work for yourself and I noticed there was a big lane open for me. There were no brands, no branding in cannabis. And I like to say that we're one of the first brands with a logo, a colorway, an identity. And I just saw that early on in the medical days that it was a big thing missing. So, I just wanted to take advantage of that.
You tried several times to launch the Cookies brand, right, and it failed?
The clothing part, yeah. I didn’t really understand the sizing and stuff like that.
But I read somewhere that you invested the last $19,000 your mom left you in an IRA account, and that finally helped the brand catch on. What do you think it was? Do you think it was your perseverance or that she was looking down on you from heaven? What do you attribute it to?
I think it's a mixture of both. I never give up. I always try. So I think just the consistency, being persistent, being passionate and also my mom leaving me some money to do something with. I think that played a big part of it, knowing that that was all I had to really try to start something.
What early business lessons did you learn that you still lean on today?
You've got to be hands on with everything.
That’s a great segue to my next question. I know you're a hands on guy, everything I've read about you, everything I've seen. How involved are you with the breeders?
Very involved. I mean, I kind of give them guidance on what to breed. And once we get flavors, I go through all of them. I don't care if it's 100 jars or ten jars. I go through all of it, kind of whittle down what I think is special and work with them on and taking the ones we like, naming it, putting it in production, designing the logo with the artist. I mean, every aspect of it possible.
What's your favorite strain that you've done so far?
London Pound Cake #75.
And what's something new you're working on? Can you give us a sneak peek?
Yeah. We've got some of the original Cookie's strains from the early 2000s that a lot of people like. You know, we created the Thin Mint, we created the Gelatos, and all that stuff. There are a lot of original seeds we’re kind of going through right now just to kind of bring back the time machine. I’m pretty excited about those. Sour Diesel x The Cherry, the Cherry Pie and stuff like that.
That's great. I reached out to you because CULTA is celebrating its 10th Cookies drop on September 18, 2020. That's a big milestone for us. It's big for Maryland. Take me back a couple of years ago and tell our readers how the partnership with CULTA came about.
We got introduced to CULTA and we were able to tour their facility and check out the operations and I'm a big fan of CULTA and they’re probably one of my favorite partners. I mean, their cultivation is five star. And we did a partnership with them. And I remember the first job we did, it was magical to be able to be there before all this shit [COVID-19] happened, just being able to see how excited the East Coast was to have Cookies and how well CULTA executed not only the cultivation, but moving through the line as operators. So, I am very blessed to be partnered with them and hope to be able to build more with them and expand to other states if they decide to expand.
Was there anything specific that you needed to know about CULTA to be reassured that we were the right partner in Maryland for you?
You know, just the cultivation. I remember the first time I was brought a jar of the herbs you guys cultivated and I was like oh, yeah, these guys kill this. I can only imagine what they could do with our gear. So I really look for the cultivation in a partner because it's important if we're going to introduce flavor somewhere, you want people to see it the first time, you know, properly. You don't want them to get a bad first look at something. First glance, first introduction to something is one of the most important things. Once you see it, you either like it or you dislike it. So, yeah, you guys are definitely doing your thing. And I was definitely stoked about it.
You're a connoisseur of cannabis. You probably have a better nose for strains, better than most people. What do you think are the differences between West Coast and East Coast cannabis or even West Coast and East Coast cannabis users?
For a long time, the East Coast was kind of, you know, infatuated with the Sour Diesel. I just saw that was what was going on out there...was Sour and Piss. I think more recently they got turned on to the flavors. And I think that the East Coast smokers are just like West Coast smokers. They like good bud. I think that availability was one thing. And now that there's people like CULTA putting different flavors in the market, you're going to see people's choice of smoke change for sure.
Cookies has coast-to-coast coverage, and now your brand is international with the location of Barcelona. What's your 10 year vision for the Cookies brand?
I just want to go where it’s legal. Wherever it’s legal I want to go. I want to spread this shit, my vision for this is before I pass away is to put Cookies in as many places I can. Kind of like the Johnny Appleseed effect and just spread this good bud worldwide and make sure that there is good herb in the market.
You see a lot of the early legal cannabis people, whether it be the investment bankers or real estate tycoons or hedge funds, they didn't really understand what good weed was and they're just growing anything. And so I can have anything to do with it, I want to put the weed all around...wherever it's legal. I want to provide the best possible.
And what's the biggest threat to your plan?
There’s not really any threat, man. We've been doing this for so long. I mean, obviously a federal legalization would help that plan, and not going federally legal would not help that plan. But we’re going to figure it out either way. I’ve dealt with trolls, I’ve dealt with haters, I’ve dealt with competition, I’ve been in weed wars for a long time with a lot of other people. And my stance has always been the same: just kill them with kindness, kill them with success. Success is the best revenge.
I don't feed into a lot of the drama. There’s always people trying to get us out the way or try to discredit the movement that we have as a company. We've been able to achieve a lot. And of course, certain people are upset about it and they don't give us credit where we're due. But that ain’t going to stop shit. We’re going to keep crushing it.
Who's your biggest ally then?
My partners. You know, everyone who partners with me is helping us spread the vision. You know, those are my guys that got our back. And if it wasn't for our team and the infrastructure behind Cookies that we’ve built, I don't think we would have been able to get this far.
Right. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about music. There is an undeniable bond between music and cannabis. Why do you think that is?
I mean, they're both similar. You know, you use both of them to kind of like celebrate, mourn, to relax, to turn up. They play a big part of your day and affect your mood. So when you're riding you can turn on some shit to ride to, you smoke when you’re chilling at the house. Weed and music are very similar in a lot of ways. They affect people's day a lot.
Besides your own music, you listen to anybody else?
A lot of older shit.
Yeah. Like what?
DJ Quik, Snoop, DMX, Bone, Pac, Biggy, some Doors.
Any RBL Posse?
RBL, of course, JT The Bigga Figga, San Quinn, Messy Marv, just everything you know. The whole shit. The whole 90s to early 2000s rap. I listen to a lot of rock too, a lot of reggae.
Nice. Your album Twenty Joints went certified gold. Congratulations!
That's got to feel good after releasing so many records. That's a huge achievement.
Yeah, it’s tight man. Makes me want to keep going.
After you go platinum, what's left on your bucket list?
Movies, man. I want to get into the movie stuff.
Yeah? I heard an interview somewhere that you had a script that you’ve been sitting on for a while. What's the status of that?
You know, just want to wait to be able to fund it myself. I don't really trust anyone else. You go into Hollywood, they want to make movies about love stories and this and that. They all follow a certain kind of like S.O.P of how a movie should flow. Like, my shit is real. I want to tell the story the way I want to tell it. “Packs” is going to be done a certain way because there's like a real story to be told there. So I'm just waiting to be able to fund it myself so I could do it the way I want to do it.
With the success of Netflix’s Narcos, this might be good timing for you.
Yeah. I need to find someone who understands how real the stories are.
In past interviews, you said your goal was to hit $200 million and then retire and take care of your family. How close are you to achieving that goal?
Pretty fucking far dude. [laughs]
We put out an alert on Instagram to solicit some questions for you and here are some questions that I gathered for you. @milkyjeebs wants to know how he can invest in Cookies.
Right now, there's no way. But maybe one day if my partners can convince me when it goes federally legal, maybe we’ll go public on the Nasdaq. But until then we’re just private, we're riding this wave as long as we can and building as hard as we can privately.
@pinupinhightops wants to know when you're coming back to Maryland.
As soon as this weird shit [COVID-19] ends, man. I can't wait to fucking get back to Maryland. I miss it out there, I miss the vibe. And there are some fucking good crab cakes out there. And it was just cool. Beautiful place. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.
@lalo606k wants to know when you’re dropping a book?
So I got it kind of ready. I'm looking for the right distribution deal. So let's just say like maybe April next year.
@dr.smacked wants to know if you would change anything about how you grew your brand.
Nah, man, I love it. I like the way it happened. It happened real organic. I went through a lot of struggles and, you know, it's bubbling right now. And I think I think everything we've done has been perfect.
There's been a couple of fans asking about you making music with people from Baltimore. @spacemaaaaan wants to know if you'd ever get on a hook?
Possibly. You gotta catch me at the right time when I'm in the studio working.
Alright. Are you working on a new album?
Yeah, I got an album coming out called Russ Bufalino, The Quiet Don. It’s pretty dope, man.
Nice. When’s the release date on that?
Ah, I'm going to kind of do it sporadic because there's nothing going on, so probably at the end of August, maybe September.
Cool. Anything you want to say in terms of giving a shout out to the Maryland customers for the 10th Cookies drop?
Yeah, man, I appreciate you guys supporting us and shout out to CULTA for killing it on every drop. I look forward to getting some of our new genetics in rotation in Maryland. Keep the flavors interesting for everyone out there.
Berner, thank you so much. I know you're a busy guy. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.