Who says the West Coast should have all the fun? On a grey Saturday this January, in the harborside Baltimore neighborhood of Federal Hill, hundreds of Maryland medical marijuana patients lined up - some even camping overnight - for their first chance to buy some of California’s most iconic bud...on their home turf.
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Cookies, the ever-growing West Coast cannabis empire founded by the extremely influential cultivator, cannabis mogul, and hip-hop artist Berner, had finally made it to the East Coast, through a partnership with the Baltimore dispensary and grower Culta.
The medical patients who came out in droves to purchase Cookies flower and spend a minute hanging with Berner made it clear that the company’s reputation has spread far beyond their home base of California; the line between West Coast and East Coast cannabis had suddenly become much less distinct.
“Baltimore was the perfect place for Cookies to make its East Coast debut,” Berner told Wikileaf. “We were truly humbled to see people come out from all over the state to support the brand.”
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“We didn’t know if we’d get the same reaction [in Baltimore] that we get in California, but it was just as strong or stronger,” added Parker Berling, the President of Cookies. “It’s one thing to see fans camping out overnight in California, something else entirely in Maryland or Detroit.”
Not a Businessman, He’s a Business, Man!
Cookies’ path to global fame has been nearly two decades in the making.
As Berner, now in his mid-thirties, told the Breakfast Club, he’s been selling since he was a teenager, stuffing weed-filled socks in his pants and flying to Arizona.
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Shortly after he turned 18 and got his California medical card, he got a gig working the door at a cannabis club in San Francisco; he eventually became their buyer.
Additionally, he became the go-to tastemaker for the Bay Area and national hip-hop artists alike. Working with fellow cultivators Mario "Sherbinski" Guzman and his partner "Jigga," Berner developed Girl Scout Cookies (now GSC), and bred the KK strain exclusively for Wiz Khalifa.
Berner is nothing if not a serial entrepreneur: He has started a wide range of cannabis-adjacent businesses: Hemp20 Water, a collaboration with Santa Cruz Shredders, and his own Cookies apparel line.
He’s a notorious workaholic, with a reputation for sleeping three to four hours a night.
Around the end of 2016, Berner linked up with Berling, who was then running Mesh Ventures, a cannabis venture fund.
“Cookies was the Holy Grail,” Berling says now. The fund made their single largest investment in Cookies, and shortly thereafter, Berling joined the team.
The timing couldn’t have been better: California law required all cannabis retailers to start adhering to strict compliance rules by Jan 1, 2018, and the company needed to “build corporate infrastructure,” as Berling put it. Since then, Cookies has grown exponentially.
The brand now has dispensaries throughout California, as well as in Detroit (on 8 Mile, no less), Cookies apparel stores in Barcelona and Seattle and more licensing opportunities on the horizon.
Yet, until 2020, they had no presence in the burgeoning East Coast market, where Massachusetts and Maine boast recreational programs and nearly every other state has a medical program.
In Culta, a Like-Minded Partner
Since opening in April 2018, a few months after Maryland’s first dispensary came online, Culta has quickly established itself as one of the leading brands in Maryland; their partnership with Cookies has been in the works for nearly as long.
Mackie Barch, Culta’s President, initially proposed the collaboration. “I was noticing the traction of the Cookies brand on the West Coast,” he told me. “It was really feeling like they had something organic happening that was truly not a bunch of guys in a boardroom.”
Their connection timed perfectly with Cookies’ multi-state expansion. “It was evident they were perfect for us,” Berling said of Culta. “What I love about Mackie is that he’s not trying to take over the universe; he’s just laser-focused on being the best in Maryland.”
“Their Head of Cultivation, Jay [Bouton], is doing phenomenal work [as well],” he added. “[Partners in] some states were harder decisions, but Maryland was a no brainer.”
Quality Control is King
In all of Cookies’ partnerships, maintaining the quality of their product, and by extension, their reputation, is of the utmost importance, especially since they can’t oversee the production of the flower firsthand.
“That’s the #1 consideration when expanding the brand,” Berling explained. “We get the pick of the litter with who we want to work with. As long as we can work with businesses like Culta, that takes care of that concern.”
Barch explained that the strains Culta is currently growing - Cereal Milk, Cheetah Piss, Gary Payton, Gelato 42, Georgia Pie and The Soap - were largely dictated by what seeds were available.
To fine-tune the menu, Culta worked with the Cookies team to select specific phenotypes. “People wonder why it takes so long to get stuff out in a world of 'on-demand everything,'” Barch said.
“Plants don't work like that. No fast way to move that needle. No matter what pops up hot on the West Coast, you can't get them to the East Coast any faster than a year, a year and a half.”
Berling pointed out that Cookies’ best quality control comes from their customers.
“If there's a problem in Maryland or Detroit or any other country in the world, we’re gonna know about it very quickly. We’ll see it on Instagram; people will tag us five thousand times. It’s a very complicated supply chain, and issues will happen. We've got the best operators in every state to help us remedy those.”
More on the way
Cookies has no intention of slowing down its expansion anytime soon. “We’re probably going to double or triple down our efforts on the East Coast,” Berling said.
“We continue to look for the best partners in states and markets around the world who can retain the quality standards that Cookies holds,” Berner added. “We believe this is a trend that will continue as long as we keep finding partners that can deliver quality and consistency like Culta.”
In the near future, Culta plans to expand their Cookies offerings as well to include strains including Lemonnade, PowerzzzUp, Minntz, Runtz and Grandiflora. Maryland law permits Culta to wholesale their Cookies products to other dispensaries as well; that could happen as soon as later this month.
“We’re going to go broad and deep with the Cookies portfolio,” Barch said. “They’re a best in class company, both in quality of products and quality of people.”