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How Berner Built A Half-A-Billion Dollar Cannabis Empire: 'I've Been Working Non-Stop Since I Was 13'

May 12, 2021 4:05 pm
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How Berner Built A Half-A-Billion Dollar Cannabis Empire: 'I've Been Working Non-Stop Since I Was 13'

When one of Berner’s famed Cookies cannabis dispensaries was looted last year, the world-known rapper turned marijuana mogul responded in the most humane way possible.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

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 is part of what has 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.

Well, that and “19 years of non-stop dedication, and understanding the business from the consumer, to the cultivator, to the lack of brands in the space,” said Berner, disclosing his flagship stores are making between $100,000 and $200,000 a day, with his new Melrose location often reaching $450,000 in a single day.


“But most of all, being in love with cannabis. When you’re in love with something, you’re going to be the best at it. Combine love and dedication and you cannot fail.”

The Keychain To Success

Business gurus of all sorts will often try to sell you on the “key to success”; but the doors to success take more than a couple keys to open.

The Flying Hellfish on The Simpsons

The Flying Hellfish on The Simpsons – YouTube

And Berner seems to hold a keychain packed with keys.

“I’ve been working non-stop since I was 13 years old,” he said.

With effort and perseverance, Berner went from weed dealer to budtender to ultra-famous rapper, investor, and entrepreneur. Nowadays, he’s writing a book on how to build a brand, developing a documentary production unit, and working on “really cool ways” to keep fans and customers engaged with his music, the Berner brand, and the Cookies brand at every possible level.

Since reaching the top and staying there are two very different things, Berner is constantly innovating. But that balance between “keeping the business evolving and keeping it cool without diluting the roots of it” is not child’s play.

“Time and dedication are important but the ultimate key to my success is being hands-on. Friday, Saturday, Sunday… Whether it be 6 a.m. or midnight, I’m calling everybody.”


This is true: Berner rarely rests. All he needs to remain active and centered are 3 or 4 hours of sleep, and one full hour of swimming every day.

“Swimming is a key to success for entrepreneurs. It's a full-body workout… When I come back to my phone, there’s 37 to 60 text messages, and I'm calm when I get back to it.”

Going into other pieces of advice for aspiring minority entrepreneurs, Berner talked about identity.

“Black and brown communities set trends. It’s important to realize that our personality and our aura bring a lot to the table… So make sure you get your equity, that your value is recognized. Use your aura to get through the door and work with someone, and work hard. And get equity, ask for something that can last forever.”

Runs In The Family

Entrepreneurship has been passed on in the Milam family from generation to generation.

Berner’s father owned a taco restaurant he built from the ground up, as a first-generation Mexican immigrant. His mother owned a headhunting business. And even the rapper’s daughter, aged 13, is into brand building.

“It's cool to see my daughter, who's been side-by-side with me this whole time… Without me teaching her or learning business, she's got her clothing line [Heartblaster Clothing], and she does really cool things with it… I see that she’s soaking up business things from me and her personality is very strong, she’s very hands-on, very vocal… I feel I’m doing things right,” he said.

From a crammed existence, living in a studio apartment as a kid with four other people, to owning a huge house by the lake, the family’s rise has been astronomical. And grandpa Milam couldn’t be prouder.


“I’m super blessed because I know where I came from. It always sits in the back of my head.”

This is what drives Berner to continue to build up Cookies. Having created a multi-million-dollar company is not enough for this businessman. He wants to see his brand go international (the process has already begun, with the opening of a Cookies store in Barcelona, Spain) and have people love it everywhere, even after he’s gone.

This is something he’s been working on for years.

“I just think we’re one of the first real cannabis brands with an identity, a color wed… Music, the Internet, and documenting all our steps is a big key to why we are known,” he said, sharing plans for upcoming Cookies stores in Nevada and 17 overseas markets — with production and storefronts. “We’re just going everywhere that we can.”

Author's note: since the original publication of this article, Cookies signed a deal with Subversive Acquisition LP (OTCQX:SBVRF)(TSX:SVX)(NEO: SVX.U)'s InterCure for its European expansion, added non-psychoactive mushroom formulations to its product offering and closed a supply and production deal with Next Green Wave Holdings Inc. (CSE:NGW) (OTCQX:NXGWF).

Spread The Love

Very conscious of how fortunate he’s been, Berner actively seeks to empower other minority entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and succeed at it.

One of his main objectives is to get OG cannabis cultivators and breeders out of the illicit market and into the legal market. For him, it’s all about creating something lasting, intergenerational wealth.

Chronixx, Damian Marley, Berner (L-R)

Chronixx, Damian Marley, Berner (L-R) – Farid

“My job is to keep some of the people from the game in the game,” he explained.

Beyond empowering his clients and followers with advice and guidance, Berner seeks to bring in some of the best people into the Cookies ecosystem.

“I find the best growers everywhere and try to give them a boost by bringing them into the Cookies family in an organic way… I’m embracing what all of these great people do. You can’t micromanage all these stores and be great. You have to find great people, work with them, and have them embrace your vision.”

Big Partners

Beyond being a cool, sought-after brand, Cookies is a big, profitable business. And it owes some of its success to its partnerships.

Among them are rapper Rick Ross, cannabis companies Slang Worldwide Inc (OTC: SLGWF), Green Thumb Industries Inc (OTC: GTBIF) and Gage Growth Corp (CSE:GAGE), accessories supplier Greenlane Holdings Inc (NASDAQ:GNLN) and hip-hop duo Run The Jewels – El-P and Killer Mike.

“Las Vegas is a really interesting market to me. The cannabis market there is booming,” he said. So Berner and GTI set out on a mission to create a store with the best menu and the best cannabis in town.

“GTI recognized our dedication to our menu and our alignment with some of the best cultivators in Las Vegas, and they dedicated an entire store on the Strip to us.”

Berner and B-Real of Cypress Hill

Berner and B-Real of Cypress Hill – Farid

Moving on to Run The Jewels, Berner shared his long history with Killer Mike, which goes back more than a decade.

“These guys [Run The Jewels] stand for something super important, they have really good voice, and they have a very niche fan base that loves weed. Killer Mike stands for the same things I stand for: being a good human, not putting up with bullsh*t, and speaking up when something is wrong.”

By means of conclusion, Berner went back to his mission. “Of course growing my business is important, and making money is cool, my main objective is to put quality cannabis everywhere I can before my time comes, so that consumers in legal markets get the herb they deserve and enjoy it like they are supposed to.”

All photos courtesy of Farid. Follow him on Instagram.

This article was originally published on Forbes and appears here with permission.

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