Respect ‘the real people’ in the cannabis industry: Q&A with Cookies CEO Berner

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When you’re popular, everyone has an opinion about your success – some of it unflattering.

Just ask Berner, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco Bay Area-based cannabis company Cookies.

Anyone paying even the slightest attention to the cannabis industry has heard of his business.

Naysayers take aim at the flower brand’s quality, saying the hype doesn’t match what the company delivers.

But Cookies’ critics don’t bother Berner much.

Before he built one of the most recognizable brands in the industry he was a rapper, and when his music was criticized, it only motivated him to do better.

“What would worry me is if no one was talking about my business,” Berner said.

“When you’re being talked about, you’re doing something right.”

Cookies owns 55 retail marijuana locations in 12 U.S. states as well as Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and Spain.

Ahead of Berner’s fireside chat at MJBizCon next week, MJBizDaily spoke with the entrepreneur about the marijuana industry as well as how he built the Cookies brand for cannabis products and an accompanying clothing line.

Berner appears Wednesday during MJBizCon‘s Nov. 16-18 run at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

How have you been able to build this brand into a multimillion-dollar company that lives or dies on its authenticity and still maintain credibility?

Pay respect to the real people in the industry. I’m a legacy dude in the sense that I’ve been doing this for 20 years.

And it’s all been documented. I’m actually a smoker. I actually really enjoy good hash, good flower.

I’m constantly looking for the best and paying homage to small-batch growers and the smaller operators and even the underground operators and growers as well.

So, I guess there’s no method to the madness, just being really in the game will keep you authentic.

There’s a stark divide among people like you, who ran legacy companies and understand the culture that led to the legalization movement, and those who see this industry as a way to make a profit. How does the industry avoid losing that original legacy personality as it grows?

It will take more people like us to empower legacy cultivators, operators and breeders and give them a platform to do their thing.

It’s going to take education on predatory investors.

That’s the biggest issue – a lot of legacy people get in the game, they don’t know their business or what a predatory investor is, and how damaging that could be to your whole momentum.

There’s a lot of moving parts that keep the real ones in the game, and it’s going to take a lot of work from everyone to make that happen.

You’ve built a successful clothing brand along with your cannabis business. What did you learn from working in clothing and retail that you could apply to cannabis?

Being on time with deliveries. The reason Cookies was super successful in the clothing space is because retailers know that anything that we drop will be there on time.

Having good fulfillment. When people order online, getting products to them.

You learn the customer and what the customer needs.

I feel like we really pay attention to the customer with the clothing side of things. That applies to cannabis as well.

I started the clothing line because I was frustrated not being able to fit into sizes of other brands, like Abercrombie & Fitch or The Gap or Louis Vuitton.

They don’t make stuff my size.

I’m so glad that that happened because I think that Cookies clothing played a huge part in promoting and branding and keeping the cannabis side of our business relevant.

Same goes for cannabis. It keeps the clothing side of our business relevant.

I didn’t graduate high school or go to college or know anything about business. I just learned from the ground up.

I started Cookies clothing in my house, and we were shipping my products out of my house.

By the time the UPS trucks would pull up and they’d be completely full, I realized that I needed to get a warehouse.

So it taught me how to scale my business as well.

I know you’re getting offers from corporate interests to sell. Why are you still holding on to the business? 

Because I love it. I enjoy it. There’s nothing else I’d rather do with my time. And we’re not even close to done yet.

So there’s a lot of things we have to do.

My fear is that if I let it go, then it won’t be the way it needs to be.

As long as I’m alive and healthy and having fun, I plan to be hands-on with this.

Because no one could execute your vision like you. I’m just so obsessed with getting things done the right way.

I like the idea of keeping the family business.

I joke with my daughter all the time, “You’re about to be the CEO of Cookies because your spirit, your soul, your connection to people, the way you move around, it’s way brighter than mine.”

So I would love to be able to leave it behind if possible. I mean, that’s the goal.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

Bart Schaneman can be reached at