Jan. 16, 2018, is sure to be a date Berner will never forget. And it's not only because his album, The Big Pescado, hit No. 1 on the hip-hop charts ahead of Eminem. Or because his mom died after a battle with cancer eight years ago to the day.
It also happens to be the day the rapper-turned–marijuana entrepreneur achieved his dream of opening one of Southern California's first and, he hopes, finest recreational marijuana dispensaries.
Located in Maywood, southeast of downtown, Cookies Los Angeles is Berner's second pot store. He and his partners say their goal is to make it the gold standard for what a marijuana dispensary can be, from seed to sale, in a 25,000-square-foot warehouse.
Coming attractions include a grow room with picture windows where customers can see tall stalks of pot while they buy their weed.
On opening day, a line of happy, smiling customers 200 deep waited patiently for more than an hour to get through the doors to buy their herb with names like Gushers or Limited Edition London Pound Cake or Lemon Chello #19, which goes for a whopping $420 an ounce.
But it’s not just about champagne tastes. As Cookies L.A. managing partner Daniel Dvorsky put it, “You don’t have to be rich. If you have a Cadillac or Porsche budget, we have that. If you have a Toyota budget, we have that for $200 an ounce.”
Berner, the Mexican-American rapper from San Francisco whose real name is Gilbert Milam Jr., prefers to go by his stage name. His rap albums are laced with marijuana references.
Berner beamed like a proud father as he surveyed the two dozen or so customers allowed inside at any one time. It was all hugs and “hey, bro” when he saw someone he knew — and even someone he didn’t.
There also was a moment when he got a little misty-eyed.
“My mom died eight years ago today, too,” Berner said. “And marijuana helped her get through the pain, helped with her appetite.”
Berner opened the first Cookies in his hometown, San Francisco. He already was a successful rapper but saw Cookies as a way to freedom.
“I never wanted to work for anybody,” Berner said. “I want to live forever through my music and the actions I do such as Cookies.”
A Cookies in Los Angeles was Berner's dream, maybe even three or four dispensaries. But he and his partners were stymied when dealing with officials from Los Angeles, who wanted dispensary owners to jump through too many hoops, he said.
Maywood was already was on the partners' radar.
The city, which was $16 million in debt and looking at bankruptcy, turned to Berner, Cookies and others in a last-ditch effort to save the town. Officials passed rules to allow recreational and medicinal dispensaries, cultivation and distribution.
Cookies applied for and was handed one of the first 12 licenses that went to five different companies. In fact, Cookies received several licenses to cover all aspects of the business. In return, the city gets 6 percent sales tax on all marijuana sales, said Maywood spokesman Robert Alaniz.
“Depending on sales, it could be as much as $1 million a year from Cookies alone,” Alaniz said. “Not only is this going to pay down the city’s debt but some of the money is going toward city services like streets and sidewalks and a new sheriff’s substation.”
Dvorsky considers Maywood the ideal place for Cookies.
“We’re smack in the middle of Los Angeles County,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to be in Los Angeles without being in Los Angeles.”
Cookies' dispensary is in an industrial neighborhood with single-family homes and busy train tracks nearby. Inside and out, the place is clean as a whistle.
A train rolling by blew its horn not long after Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina cut a ceremonial green ribbon marking the opening.
Ivan A. and his girlfriend, Nayo, live a block away from Cookies. The two, who didn’t want their last names used, bought three grams of weed, an indica strain called Biscotti, a sativa called Jack and a hybrid Lemon Chello #19.
“Just wanted to see which was the best,” Ivan said. “The opening of Cookies means there’s going to be more and more acceptance. You know you’re getting quality pot here. These guys know their botany. I know Berner’s reputation from his albums and his Frisco shop.”
Nayo added, “We’ve talked about being able to go to a place and buy pot and no one judges you. Pot brings people together. It makes you chill. You’re not looking to create a situation and get violent or rowdy like people do on alcohol.”
Brian Rose and Julio Difourt, who moved to L.A. from Baltimore three months ago, said they both got their driver’s licenses Tuesday so they could to get to Cookies and support their friend, Berner.
“We’ve been following Berner for years through his hip-hop music,” Rose said. “When somebody has talent, they have talent, and Berner has it in music and in Cookies.”
The two, both African-American, praised Berner’s grasp of the hip-hop and street community despite the fact that he's white.
“He’s in tune with what’s going on,” Difourt said. “He raps about smoking the best weed and people relate to him. I didn’t know if he was black or white when I first heard him.”
Tiffeny Mariscal said it was a blessing to be at Cookies on its grand opening.
“Not a lot of dispensaries do it this well,” Mariscal said. “I love cannabis. I have a gastrointestinal issue and I’m a pharmaceutical representative. But it’s better for me to smoke pot than to take pharmaceuticals.
“With Cookies dispensary open, I know where my flowers are coming from,” she said.
“The beauty of Cookies is that everything in the place is grown and trimmed on site,” Dvorsky said. “We control the supply chain from top to bottom. “It’s state of the art.”