“I remember asking my mom to lend me the money,” he says. “I bought the equipment and made a song right there. I used to go into the garage, where it was 110 degrees, and get my friends to watch me freestyle. I just got into it. That kid sparked something in me.”
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.)
Every person in business, from the mogul CEO on down to the neophyte fresh from a seminar at the motel near the airport, will tell you how important brands are. For an industry that could be worth as much as $15 billion in California alone — more than almonds and more than wine — the cannabis industry is almost entirely brand-less.
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.
And all thanks to weed — weed, social media, and hustle. But mostly weed.
Arizona was where Berner grew a thick skin. “I was the Mexican kid with slicked-back hair. I always had to defend myself. It was, 'Oh, you're from San Francisco? You're a faggot,'' he says now, in a rapid-fire patter light-years quicker than his lazy rapping flow. “I was like, 'I dare you to go to Hunter's Point. I'll give you $1,000 to ride the 14 bus down Mission wearing blue. Let me know how that goes for you.'”
The hubbub over the grand opening of Cookies' clothing boutique lasted for three days, well into Bay to Breakers Sunday, when an even-larger crowd of even buzzier young people strolled through to see what could possibly compete for attention with San Francisco's greatest outdoor drinkathon. (The golden RV, for one, with young women inside volunteering to twerk on camera; the collection of people handing out free joints outside the store, for another.) On a weekend when many Haight Street merchants would prefer to roll down the gate rather than deal with the mess and noise, Cookies was doing banner business, ringing up tabs into the hundreds of dollars well into the afternoon.
“That's when it clicked for me — there was a huge difference between California and Arizona.”
“It’s extremely unfortunate what happened to our store tonight on Melrose. But as a human living in the world we’re living in today, I cannot expect anything less until justice is served,” Berner said in a video on Instagram, only moments after the looting took place. “We can rebuild our store, but you cannot bring someone back to life.
During a recent, exclusive conversation, Berner added, “I stand by the people. I’m sick of being scared, sick of people being profiled, people being killed for no reason, with no justice.”
“With that being said, we stand with what is going right now in the world. A statement needed to be made. All I say is, I pray everyone stays safe and protects their family in a time like this,” he continued. “How can I worry about a store when there is so much more going on in the world right now? So much hate, so much anger, so much pain, and a lack of justice.”
He was not enraged, or worried about the financial losses. Instead, he empathized with the protesters, who were reacting to decades of racially driven police violence and abuse.
When one of Berner’s famed Cookies cannabis dispensaries was looted in late May, the world-known rapper turned marijuana mogul responded in the most humane way possible.
Strong statements from someone who’s watched more than a million dollars in (uninsurable) product being stolen from his business. It is safe to say this level of authenticity and humanity are part of what have made Berner’s Cookies a half-a-billion-dollar business that really resonates with customers, driving them to line up for hours to shop whenever a new store opens.