- America's first $1 billion weed brand is here, and it's named Cookies.
- Gilbert Milam Jr., more well-known as the rapper Berner, is the company's cofounder and CEO.
- "I wanna live forever through my work," Berner told Insider. "I don't think money's gonna determine when I retire."
When rapper and millionaire entrepreneur Berner was 15 years old, living part-time with his mom in Arizona and part-time with his dad in California, he took a job at Wendy's.
The fast-food chain was offering a $500 signing bonus at the time.
"I worked for two weeks. I got my check," he told Insider in an interview last week. "I came to California, bought some weed, brought it back to Arizona, started flipping it." That was the end of his career at Wendy's.
Twenty-five years later, and Berner — formally known as Gilbert Milam Jr. — is now the head of America's first legal weed empire: Cookies.
Like Steve Jobs is to Apple and Elon Musk is to Tesla, such is Berner to Cookies; it's impossible to discuss the history of Cookies without him. The Cookies brand is the creation of Bay Area rapper Berner, who also serves as CEO of the company that oversees everything from retail dispensaries to clothing design.
It's a company that he says is now worth at least $1 billion — the world's first legal $1 billion weed brand.
"Based on revenue, and growth, and potential growth," he told Insider, "we're definitely a billion-dollar company."
From a logo on a hoodie to a billion-dollar company
Whether you live in a place with legal access to marijuana or not, there's a good chance you've heard of Cookies.
Beyond the company's 49 marijuana dispensaries, Cookies is perhaps even more well-known for the popular clothing line of the same name that's sold around the world. (It's a not-so-subtle nod to the similar marijuana strain name that comes with legal complications.)
You can find Cookies hoodies with the trademark blue strings and matching logo in US clothing chains like Zumiez, in the company's two clothing stores, and being worn by Berner himself in music videos going back nearly a decade.
The clothing line alone did over $50 million in sales last year, Berner said on a podcast interview in late 2021. And when a new Cookies dispensary opens, fans camp out overnight to be the first in line.
Berner's successful career as a rapper and his successful career as a clothing and marijuana entrepreneur are intertwined: While working at a Bay Area marijuana dispensary named The Hemp Center in the last few years of the previous decade, Berner began publishing music that catapulted him to fame in the hip-hop world.
He leveraged that fame into the creation of Cookies, which began as little more than a logo worn by Berner on hoodies in his music videos.
"I did a video with Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., and Chris Brown," Berner said. "In that video I wore that hoodie, and that's where I birthed the logo — the sweatshirt with the blue strings and the logo."
From there, Cookies started life through a licensing deal with a friend of Berner's to use the logo on a storefront in San Jose, California, around 2010. It would be another eight years before Cookies would open its first retail location.
He described this time period, between 2010 and 2018, when the first Cookies retail store opened, as a lengthy learning experience.
"I was just doing clothing and learning the actual brand aspect. I had a logo, it was a very early concept," Berner said. "That's why I was willing to take a little bit of money [on a licensing deal for the logo], because ultimately what I was trying to figure out was how is this shit actually really gonna work for us as Cookies?"
To say that Cookies has expanded rapidly in the last few years would be a massive understatement: Between 2018 and 2022, Cookies expanded from zero to 49 retail marijuana dispensaries. The company also added two flagship clothing stores, in San Francisco and Los Angeles..
While we spoke, a new Cookies location was opening on another continent — in the Negev Desert of southern Israel, in the city of Be'er Sheva.
Cookies' rapid ascension to the top of the marijuana market
The growth of the brand is driven primarily through organic marketing: Berner's increasing visibility as a popular musician feeds into the popularity of both the clothing brand and the marijuana dispensaries.
As his popularity has grown as a musician, so has the brand he created.
Berner wears Cookies clothing in music videos alongside a diamond-encrusted necklace with the "C" logo. His songs reference the weed strains that Cookies has popularized: the eponymous Cookies (née Girl Scout Cookies, or GSC), Gary Payton, Runtz, and many more. He created and stars in YouTube series like "Marijuana Mania," which explore the culture of marijuana around the world.
He is a self-described "marketing machine" — but it's more than marketing that drives Cookies fans to camp out overnight ahead of new dispensary openings: It's the marijuana itself.
The marijuana produced by Cookies has won awards around the world, and demands high prices on the illicit resale market.
Berner spent years in the marijuana trade before opening any dispensaries, both illegally and legally, where he forged connections with growers and learned the business from bottom to top. That's where he met Jai "Jigga" Chang, the head of genetics at Cookies — the Jony Ive to Berner's Steve Jobs — and began creating the marijuana genetics library that serves as the foundation of Cookies.
That partnership gave Cookies a secret ingredient that the venture capital-backed marijuana startups didn't have: Street credit with longtime marijuana smokers, a dispensary's best customers and advocates.
"We really care about the bud," Berner said. "I think that's what separates us from some of these other bigger companies or the hypebeast companies."
It's evident from Berner's social-media accounts and Cookie's media arm, the Couch Lock Network, that he's not kidding. It doesn't take much searching to find videos online of Berner from 10-plus years ago judging the entries at the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, long before the first Cookies dispensary had opened. His YouTube channel publishes lengthy documentaries about cannabis culture more often than he releases his own music videos.
A 'hundred-year' brand
In a time where the biggest, most-capitalized marijuana startups are facing major layoffs, Cookies has big plans for continued expansion as more American states legalize marijuana use.
The first Cookies product to be sold legally on the east coast launched in Massachusetts last year, and New Jersey is the next in line. Cookies dispensaries will eventually come to New York City, Berner said, but the regulations need to be sorted out first.
In the meantime, Berner said the company is eyeing a retail location for a third Cookies clothing store in the heart of one of Manhattan's most iconic tourist attractions. "We are planning on signing a deal to open up a clothing store in Herald Square," he said, "right across the street from Macy's."
Though he's repeatedly been offered millions of dollars for his majority stake in Cookies, Berner has thus far refused to sell. He notoriously passed on an $800 million offer from an unnamed, publicly traded Canadian firm, which he said was primarily stock.
"In the $800 million deal, you get $30 million cash and the rest in stock," he said. "I just was not down for that."
If he had accepted the offer, he said, Cookies would've likely gone under. "That would've been a gold-rush moment," he said. "That's not what Cookies is. Cookies is a legacy, hundred-year brand."
To that end, Berner has no plans to retire or sell any time soon.
"I wanna live forever through my work," Berner told Insider. "I don't think money's gonna determine when I retire."
And if he were to sell, he said, he's got a conditional demand.
"Well, I would make it like this," he said. "If you're gonna purchase Cookies, then I have to stay head of creative control until I pass. And when I pass my daughter gets that."