Ten years after its namesake genetics took over the cannabis universe, we sit down with Cookie Fam patriarchs Jigga and Berner to get the full tale of their success and what they plan next.
Nothing cannabis-related in the last 10 years found its way into our hearts, blunts and closets quite like Cookies. Even in the earliest days of transition from the medical space to the adult-use marketplace, Cookies was the most well-branded company in the cannabis industry. Today, in a world where PR people are desperate to create the kind of movement Berner’s business savvy and Jigga’s genetics have ignited, nothing else really comes close in the connoisseur space.
Every step in the process of Cookies’ rise had its own wild amount of hype. In the late 2000s, the Girl Scout Cookies strain, called Cookies for short, became the most sought-after new strain in the world. Then, as the second decade of the century kicked off, Cookies became the must-have cannabis clothing brand, moving from social media to storefronts. Today, Cookies as a legal marijuana company is using its branding savvy to take the multi-pronged business even further into the future. From its humble beginning as a singular strain, no cannabis company has been as impactful as Cookies in recent times. We got the scoop on the company’s beginnings from both its most-public face, Berner, as well as its very private breeder, Jigga.
Berner: Cookies Culture
Now a top-selling rapper with more than a dozen albums, Berner first saw the earliest Cookies phenos in 2006. At the time, he was still in high school in San Francisco and had just started rapping. He said he met people like noted cannabis breeders Jigga and Kenny Powers just because they were all city boys in the weed game.
“The first strain Jigga brought me was the Cherry Kush,” Berner said. “It was hella special when I first saw it, it was amazing. It was different for me because I knew all these other rappers didn’t have something like that. You pull up to the studio or the nightclub with people that have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry on, nice cars and the limelight, but they couldn’t get what I had.”
What made things extra exciting for Berner, and the new flavors he was getting his hands on, was the fact that enthusiasm levels around OG Kush, Bubba Kush and Granddaddy Purple were starting to fade a bit from their peaks of the 2000s.
“OG Kush was never played out, but the mass producers on the black market had it,” Berner said. “So the Cookies, Cherry Pie and Cherry Kush came around right about the time the big mass producers got a hold of everything that had value. That’s what kind of made [Cookies] special.”
Berner was among the first in the world to lay eyes on the most-dominant strain of the decade and was able to parlay that success into launching a new level of cannabis clout around “exotics,” select strains with rare genetic profiles, under the name Exotics by Berner.
To start capitalizing on the buzz around the weed, Berner founded the clothing brand that would eventually share a logo with some of the most loved dispensaries in the country in 2015. Much like the Cookies genetics, the clothing brand also started in San Francisco.
Berner first whipped up the Cookies now-famous logo just in time for his video shoot with Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa and Big K.R.I.T. for the “Yoko (Ono)” track. He knew he wanted to wear his own clothing brand in the shoot.
“I was in that position, so I just made the Cookies shirts,” Berner said. “I made the sweatshirt and I wore it in the video. And it’s history.”
As the Cookies company entered a new phase of success, with growing fan adoration for its clothing, things continued to progress with Cookies genetics.
“We came up with the Gelato with [breeder and grower] Sherbinski and Sunset Sherbert,” Berner said. “Now we’re developing our new flavors like the Lemon Poundcake, the Gelattis, all the fire-ass sh*t we have right now.”
Cookies develops its strains and then provides others with the clones to grow them out. Berner said the evolving menu is part of staying dedicated to the brand. Berner also said he was excited to drop a Cookies strain lineup on the East Coast for the first time, available in a Maryland dispensary.
“To see the response to the menu and flavors over there is crazy,” Berner said of the reception he’s seeing outside of California. “We’re just trying to keep this sh*t fun. It’s getting more and more corporate every day. You know you have to adapt with the change.”
Beyond the clothes and the strains, Cookies has also launched a chain of dispensaries. While Berner is the public face of the dispensaries, he doesn’t own them, but rather his company Cookies receives a licensing fee to brand the shops.
Cookies has partnered with a social equity applicant to open a dispensary in San Francisco and now also has California storefronts in Modesto, Los Angeles, Oakland and Redding, as well as a dispensary in Detroit, Michigan.
There have been plenty of brands that have struggled to adjust to the changes that hit the cannabis world in recent years, including increased taxes and stricter regulations, but Berner said he looks at it just like he looks at music. Music changes all the time — and yet he’s been doing it for 13 years.
“And I haven’t fell off,” Berner said. “I’m able to adapt to the change and stay true to myself at the same time. People just got to be able to do that.”
Berner is now looking at the bigger picture, which he says is making sure everyone everywhere doesn’t have to worry about getting caught with marijuana. When I interviewed him over the phone, he noted he was somewhere you definitely don’t want police to catch you with a joint, particularly if you’re black or brown.
“People love weed around the world. It should be legal, I don’t give a f*ck what anybody has to say about it,” Berner said. “This plant was put here for a reason. Yes, the [Proposition] 215 days were incredible, yes the black market was incredible, but at this point in life, I’m a grown-ass man with kids. I can’t be risking going to jail over some weed. And I need the weed. It’s a part of my life.”
Berner said he hopes cannabis is legalized everywhere, and that when it’s legalized, people who’ve spent years working in cannabis will be able to stay in the game.
“That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to bring on some of the brands that are hot, the Seed Junkys, Grand de Flora, the PowerzzzUp guys,” he said, about helping people stay afloat in the cannabis industry. “I encourage more companies out there that have the juice and the capability to put more people on, don’t just be holding your platform to yourself. We’ve really been prideful about putting other people in positions.”
Jigga: Cookies Creator
The Cookie Fam’s champion of genetics, Jigga, is arguably the most famed San Francisco breeder of all time. The only problem: No one really knows who he is. Jigga doesn’t have an online presence and is not known for granting interviews.
When I spoke with him, he was boarding a plane to Jamaica to work on Cookies’ next project and took me through the paces of how he got his start, as well as what flavors we may be able to expect next from Cookies.
The second-generation cultivator said he saw his parents get in trouble with the law in his youth over cultivating marijuana, but it didn’t deter him from starting down a path that would eventually change the way connoisseur cannabis enthusiasts describe exotic marijuana. He says he grew pot under his first light was when he was about 17 years old.
“My mom let me pop one up in her house,” Jigga said. “But my first real spot was when we graduated to our first spot in the Sunset [neighborhood of San Francisco] at 23rd and Ortega.”
Jigga and his friends were in their late teens and had saved up for years to build out their grow.
“We got this hydroponic setup. We were a bunch of High Times reading kids,” he said with a laugh. “You know, we’d steal High Times magazines and dream of what we wanted to do.”
Like many of his compatriots in the city, Jigga got his start as a grower by providing for San Francisco’s community of terminally ill patients. Those patients and caregivers were the same community that banded together behind activist Dennis Peron in 1996 to pass Proposition 215.
“I worked with the San Francisco Department of Public Health on HIV/AIDS education for many years,” Jigga said, noting he gave cannabis to a few of the San Francisco compassion programs that provided to the sick with medicine free of charge.
While Jigga is now known for creating new cannabis cultivars, he said he likely started growing with Trainwreck.
“We’d get varieties from up in Canada: Hash Plants, these Trainwrecks, these other things they called the original HPs. Those were probably the very first varieties I played with,” he said.
He wasn’t always sure exactly what he was working with, but he certainly had access to good seeds. At the time, the market was favoring purps and then Jack Herer. But Jigga says he always wanted to start hunting down those exotic terpene profiles he’s now so known for.
“Just growing up, I always had that want and that desire for flavors,” he said. “I’ve known Kenny Powers forever. He was the older bro at the time. He always had the wildest genetics — just different exotic flavors. We had some stuff called Breakfast. Our OG Rastafarian friend Zulu had the Hawaiian funk, like stick-to-the-bag-crazy sh*t.”
Jigga said as soon as you got the taste back in the day for that good kush or purple, it was like you were a changed man: “You could never not be exotic, you know what I mean?”
Jigga started pollinating his own plants after seeing guys like Dutch Seed Co., DJ Short, and now fellow Lemonnade collaborator Amsterdam-based Green House Seed Company, in magazines.
“I would see articles telling people to throw away their males. I always thought it was a conspiracy theory because they didn’t want other people to enter that little niche,” Jigga said with a laugh.
From the gate, Jigga was experimental: “I’m a scientist, a nerd on the low.”
The First Cookies Cultivar
The strain that really put Cookies on the map — Girl Scout Cookies — is a cross between F1 Durban and Florida OG. Jigga reveals that discovering this now-legendary pairing was more the result of a process than a clear plan.
“We knew we wanted to cross the Durban. It was a potent variety, it had a unique smell,” Jigga said, adding that this was years before Durban really took off.
Eventually, that Durban was paired with a strain called F1, named after the racecar. Jigga said they sometimes called the original Durban x F1 the “Purple Pain,” not because it was purple on the outside, but because the inside looked like a Starburst. He said it was almost reminiscent of pungent incense and he has never seen any other Durban crosses that could compare to this day.
Jigga started working with the Florida OG, the other half of Girl Scout Cookies’ heritage, in the middle 2000s.
“It wasn’t even called OG, it was just called Kush,” he said.
That Florida OG traced back to Jigga’s old friend who was an LA-based contractor that helped a lot of Southern California folks get their grows setup. Somewhere in the process, he got the Florida OG and eventually passed it on to Jigga.
But it took years for Jigga to cross the Florida OG with the F1 Durban after the pieces were in place. Jigga’s other popular early entry into the cannabis genetics scene was Cherry Pie, a cross of F1 Durban with some crazy unknown purple. The Cherry Pie was such a star that Jigga wouldn’t end up popping the original Girl Scout Cookies seeds for a couple of years after making them in the 2000s.
“I never got a chance to dig into them because the Cherry Pie crosses were so f*cking fire,” Jigga said. “A lot of people confuse the purple in Cherry Pie paired with the F1 Durban for Grandaddy Purps, but it’s way older than that. It’s more than likely a Purple Urkle phenotype. We were just so hyped on those and developing those that it took another year or more just to get back into the original seeds paired with the Florida OG male.”
Before that though, Jigga dove into some Cherry Pie x Florida OGs. That Cherry Kush was the first pheno that put what Jigga was growing on Berner’s radar. Eventually, those F1 Durban x Florida OG seeds would hit the world by storm. With a minty nose and a sweet smooth taste, Cookies ascension gained much from the promotion of the strain by the “Cookie Fam” on Instagram and the company gained a passionate group of followers.
After leaping to cannabis fame with Girl Scout Cookies, the Cookie Fam went on to collaborate on breeding the next hype strain: Gelato, with Sherbinski, another San Francisco-based cultivator.
Gelato started the second generation of Cookie Fam strains that evolved after the Girl Scout Cookies. Jigga says that “plenty” of phenos from this second generation didn’t make the cut to get released under the Cookies label.
“When you’re in your own kitchen and you know what ingredients you have to work with, you can kind of foresee what works and what doesn’t work,” Jigga says. “You always just play with new things, new varieties, that don’t end up making the cut.”
Jigga said Kenny Powers, another breeder in the Cookies Fam, is the best for not allowing things to make it out of R&D if they don’t deserve to join the famed lineup of genetics. Over the years, all the seeds Jigga and friends popped to get these wild genetics varied in number.
“The way I like to [start a new pheno hunt is], as soon as you can, propagate 20 to 30 seeds — just to see a quick view,” Jigga said. “Flower those out to see if it’s even worth going further into a bigger hunt.”
From there, Jigga said the number of seeds he’ll pop can get up to a few hundred if he starts to see the potential. “Nowadays you can spend your time to go search out 1,000-plus [seeds], but I don’t think you really need thousands to really find something.”
The next generation of Cookies strains includes a few big winners. The Y x Snowman pairing named after the NBA player Gary Payton is one of the strains the wider marketplace is most excited about. It’s under the Powerzzz Genetics line, a subset of the Cookies brand headed by Powers. At the Cookies launch in Modesto, California in January 2020, this current batch of genetics drove what was the biggest line I’ve ever seen at a dispensary. On top of this new era of genetics, Cookies is now involved in major collaborations with folks on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Jigga held his new breeding projects close to the chest, but said he’s been working with a lot of his main stock of genetics. However, with all the backcrossing, he says the genetics he has have just naturally evolved. But with the rapid pace that Cookies is scaling up, how much time will Jigga have to continue his quest for new flavors in the hands-on fashion that ruled the previous decade?
“As much as I’d like,” he said.
The terpene profiles that are exciting Jigga these days are tweaks on Papaya. He says that G-13 is an older cut he wants to try and get back in the rotation.
“I still love those exotic flavors, but with the gases,” Jigga said. “I’m into the MACs. And hash strains, high terpenes, just super gassy good solvent-less washing strains. The ones that really put off the flavors and you’re able to capture them in that form.”
With breeders pumping out so many variations on any given strain these days, Jigga believes it takes years to really understand any given tree of genetics he’s working with, and just for it to stabilize to final potential.
“After a few generations, she becomes a mature version of herself,” he said.
Some of the upcoming windows into that quest to understand the terps will include collaborations with Dr. Dre and Damian Marley.
“We’ve got flavors that are just, oh man, we are going to shock the world once again,” Jigga said. “Powerzzz is upcoming with some next level sh*t, it’s going to be crazy.”
Under all the assorted Cookies affiliated flags, over 40 strains are now in full production. That includes Runtz, Grand De Flora, Lemonnade and Cookies.
I asked Jigga what it’s like now to see Cookies as the standard-bearer for successful urban cannabis brands, a company that grew organically out a world where public relations machines are now trying to convince the consumer what great weed is.
“It’s crazy. It’s really a gift we’re able to give our children if we do it right,” he said. “The taste of the future of cannabis genetics is in the hands of us really, you know? To have that opportunity, responsibility, it’s a rush. It’s beautiful. And it’s what keeps you passionate, keeps you motivated. Keeps your love, keeps your vibe going around. Imagine being able to develop the taste of cannabis, for the last decade, and decades to come.”
TELL US, have you tried a Cookies strain or sported any gear?