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Q&A with Berner: Co-founder and CEO of Cookies
The Cannabis 50 celebrates the organizations, individuals, and companies who are working to build a responsible, sustainable, and equitable future for the cannabis, hemp, and related industries. In addition to the 2021 Cannabis 50 Impact Review, we are also sharing interviews with our honorees to help spread their messages of positivity and growth. Cookies, a San Francisco cannabis and clothing brand, was founded by Bay Area rapper and entrepreneur Berner, who has proclaimed himself “in love with weed” for as long as he can remember. Channeling that passion, he continues to expand his company’s retail locations, partnerships, and licensing agreements, and in 2021, Cookies earned the distinction of being the first cannabis brand to be named one of the 20 Hottest Brands by AdAge. We sat down with Berner to hear more about his passion for the industry, where he thinks the industry’s headed, and what Cookies will tackle next. MGO: How long have you been involved in the cannabis industry? What inspired you to get involved with cannabis? Berner, Co-founder and CEO of Cookies: I’ve been in love with cannabis for as long as I can remember. As soon as I turned 18, I got my medical ID and started regularly visiting the Hemp Center here in San Francisco. They quickly picked up on my passion for the plant and ultimately hired me as a budtender. Hearing from customers about how the cannabis we provided was positively helping them really resonated with me. While at the Hemp Center I also realized that the bags we sold the weed in had no branding or colors or logos on them—no identifiers as to what the product actually was. That’s when I knew I wanted to create my own brand. MGO: The cannabis industry saw several trends emerge in 2021. What do you think was the biggest one? Berner: One big trend was industry consolidation—we saw bigger players eating smaller players. We also saw increased discussion and debate surrounding federal legalization, as well as a massive oversupply on the West Coast, where most MSOs haven’t established a presence, and a strengthening traditional market. MGO: What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced in the industry in 2021? How did you manage and overcome these issues? Berner: From a business perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed everything down. We saw supply over-saturation, pricing volatility, and the continued prevalence of a legacy market, especially in California. On the personal side, I received a cancer diagnosis, which led me to dive into making my 44th album. Music and weed are my medicine, and they go hand in hand. I’m dealing with my diagnosis and treatment day by day and weed truly is a tremendous help in overcoming the pain and nausea—it also keeps my mind right. MGO: What were the biggest highlights and most positive changes for Cookies in 2021? What about for the cannabis industry at large? Berner: My priority is premium genetics and innovation, and I’m proud that we continue to launch new brands and new products. Our pipeline for 2022 is hot! I’m excited to continue opening more Cookies stores, as well as expand into as many countries as we can. We’re now opening locations in Toronto, the U.K., Austria, and Portugal, which I’m incredibly excited about. Winning AdAge’s “Brand of the Year” was beyond special. Cookies became the first ever cannabis company to be recognized (and AdAge has been in business since 1939!). I feel humble. I also feel grateful for our fans and those who recognize Cookies for everything we stand for. That makes it mean even more. MGO: What should the cannabis industry be focused on in 2022—and beyond—to keep it moving forward in a positive way? Berner: The industry needs to continue a focus on delivering high quality products. It absolutely must make social equity and social impact a priority. For example, Cookies launched “Cookies U” as a supplement to the work we do every day, prioritizing partnerships with underrepresented founders and operators. But this industry should be doing so much better. I think it has the potential to deliver that. As far as what else needs to change to keep things moving in the right direction, taxes need to be addressed, as they pose a major challenge. California really needs to take a second look at the way things are being taxed and make it fair—that way, we can make the prices a lot fairer for the consumer. We also need to remove the competitive, cutthroat, edgy energy within the industry regarding brands and “who’s next” and “who’s the biggest brand.” We should all focus on doing the best we can, instead of worrying about the bigger fish…there are a lot of competitive vibes out there, and it’s not really the way. Cannabis is here to help people. It’s here to bring people together. Some of these negative, competitive attitudes are just overwhelming—and I think that we could really work on that as an industry together. If we focus on doing the best we can, we can let our work talk for itself. MGO: How do you think the cannabis industry will continue to evolve in 2022? What are you personally most excited about? Berner: I think overall, cannabis will start entering new markets, both in the U.S. and globally. Cookies hopes to enter New York as soon as it can, we’re looking forward to expanding in Europe in 2022. Ultimately, cannabis is my passion. I love how it brings people together—and I strive to do the same, everywhere I can. I’m excited about the fire new menus we have to offer and exciting new strains and collabs we have in the works for 2022. You’ll have to stay tuned! MGO: Who else in the cannabis industry inspires you by making a positive impact? Berner: Some of the operators in the industry who continue to inspire include WebberWild Fund, Amplifier, the Hood Incubator, and EVIDENCE. They’re all doing awesome work for cannabis.