Where there's marijuana in the United States, you will find Cookies. Got cookies,” is what the street hustlers whisper as you walk by on Market and Haight streets. In New Orleans and in Hawaii, in New York City and in St.
Louis, cannabis is pushed by this name, regardless of its true origins. 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. “Half the entries we had this year were Cookies,” an Emerald Cup judge told me. Girl Scout Cookies first showed up on dispensary shelves in the Bay Area in 2010 and 2011. A few years later, the Girl Scouts of America took a decided unliking to this development, and mailed cease-and-desist orders to any dispensary offering “Girl Scout Cookies” and most recently contacted a dispensary in Seattle that dared to use the GSA's trademark. So growers and sellers dropped the “Girl Scouts,” and left us with “Cookies,” although you can still find “GSC” or “Original Thin Mint” on weed club menus. While the strain's origins are in dispute — the elusive Cookie Fam claims credit, and says its heritage is a cross between well-known strain O.G. Kush and a freak cut of Durban Poison, with unique taste and effects, dubbed F1; at least one weed expert, scientist Michael Backes, author of the definitive tome Cannabis Pharmacy , believes it's a purple phenotype of another strain, Champagne — but the consumer appeal is obvious. Cookies' nugs grow big and frosty, with shades of purple, the Bay Area's former favorite. The stone is a powerful, mind-numbing mellow, perfect for regular smokers for whom a weaker strain won't get the job done.
Whether it truly tastes reminiscent of Thin Mints is subjective. “From the moment you open up the bag, the whole room fills up,” says Luke Coleman, who manages the Cookies dispensary in the Excelsior District. “Everybody knows what you have.” It fills a room, it impresses your friends, it knocks you — and them — on your ass. It's weed tailor-made for the modern urban consumer who wants something potent, high-end, and unmistakably top shelf — in every way the Courvoisier or Hennessy of cannabis. (which stands for “original gangster”) Kush sounds too illegal, Trainwreck and Green Crack all send the wrong message. Berner also found a way around the feds' ban on trademarking a weed strain. As dispensaries in San Francisco found out, you can't trademark a weed brand — there's a second dispensary, also calling itself Cookies, a few miles up Mission Street from the Berner/Cookie Fam-licensed spot (the latter of which happens to be a major SF Weekly advertiser) but you can trademark a weed clothing brand. And once that brand is trademarked, you can hang a trademarked sign outside your cannabis dispensary — and you can sue anyone trying to profit off of your name and your hard work. This, so far, is the lone (legal) avenue cannabis businesspeople have to protect their products from pretenders and fakers — and this is exactly what Berner did in 2013, registering “Cookies SF” as a trademarked maker of sweatshirts and T-shirts. 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. “He wanted urban clothes in his size and couldn't find any,” Bronson says. A week after that, he was printing shirts.” But a trademark doesn't mean much if what you're selling is wack. Cookies has the kind of unimpeachable value that corporate suits crave: the kids think it's cool. “It's the same reason NWA was popular with white, middle-class America,” says Jim McAlpine, a cannabis entrepreneur himself who founded the “420 Games” athletic competitions. “Mainstream white America wants to emulate the street kids. It has a cool street culture to it.” From the start, Berner has been Cookies' biggest ambassador. And it makes perfect sense that he would make a weed strain popular. Born at the former Children's Hospital on California Street, Berner had a mostly stable working-class life with his parents. His later mother worked in offices, and his father was a workaholic cook and chef at a Mexican restaurant on Fillmore Street near California. Along with his younger brother, the Milams lived in homes in the hills above the Haight-Ashbury and in Daly City before the family moved to Arizona when Berner was 13. The plan was for his father, Gilbert Sr., to open a restaurant there; that fell through when Berner's mother caught his father cheating and the couple split up. You're a faggot,'' he says now, in a rapid-fire patter light-years quicker than his lazy rapping flow. I'll give you $1,000 to ride the 14 bus down Mission wearing blue. Let me know how that goes for you.'” It was also in Arizona, with his mother working two jobs, where Berner first tasted weed — pure Mexican-grown brick. “Some of my homies in Arizona, their families were selling hella brick weed.
We'd go into their older brothers' rooms and strip squares off the bale. Picture a big-ass fuckin block of bud — we'd rip a corner off of it and then put it in a room with a shower to get it to fall apart, it was so dry.” “We first started chewing it — it didn't taste so good, and we didn't get high with it. So we wrapped it up in a Walgreens receipt and smoked that shit.” The first time he got high, however, was back in San Francisco at a friend's house. “I was telling him about these bricks, and he was saying how he had weed that would sell for $4,800 a pound. There's no way.' So he pulled out some weed — it was kind bud, I had never seen that before. I hit that shit twice and I was done.'” “That's when it clicked for me — there was a huge difference between California and Arizona.” Weed led to his first “honest” hustle: lying about his age to get a job at a pizza joint at 13.
(He says he was named employee of the month, just before being fired after his superiors figured out how young he was.) His teenage years followed a routine. Bored stiff in Arizona, he'd act up and find a way to get sent back to his father's house in San Francisco; trouble there would earn a flight back to his mother's — but there was a common thread. “Whenever I would go back to Arizona, I'd go down to HP [Hunter's Point] and buy a bunch of 10 sacks — the real Champagne. The real Champelly,” he says, name-checking one of the 1990s' best strains. “I always wanted to have the best weed — I'd be the coolest motherfucker in the whole world.