Last Friday, the cannabis brand Cookies opened a new dispensary in Oakland, launching in the heart of the city’s downtown neighborhood.
The Cookies brand is backed and inspired by the genetics of The Cookie Fam, whose Girl Scout Cookies strain took over the West Coast a decade ago. One might argue Cookies’ earliest phenotypes ended the OG Kush era at the top and brought in a new age of wilder terpene profiles. With the new Oakland location, East Bay residents now have access to all the weed that inspired everything from Cookies’ clothing lines to the music of the rapper Berner.
Cookies already has two dispensaries open in Los Angeles, Cookies Melrose near West Hollywood and Cookies Los Angeles near Huntington Park.
The new shop will be attached to the deepest roots of cannabis in Oakland, as it is located in a former Oaksterdam University property in the neighborhood that once shared the same name. On top of that, longtime Oakland operator Salwa Ibrahim of MSKI Holdings is spearheading the effort, as it is Ibrahim who holds the dispensary permit for Cookies Oakland and put together the partnership that opened the store.
Ibrahim’s history with the neighborhood runs deep, as she was the executive assistant to Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee. Lee also bankrolled the effort to legalize cannabis in California in 2010, though sadly, 53% of voters were against the plan.
On opening day, the line outside Cookies Oakland crept down Broadway Ave from 19th Street, as Oakland cannabis enthusiasts waited to get a glimpse of what was inside the store’s blue exterior. They weren’t disappointed — even with the crowds, how can you not get excited about White Runtz? But many of those in line might not have known the tale of how Cookies Oakland came to be, a decade-long saga of federal raids, friendship and trying to keep a pioneer’s spirit alive.
“There is kind of a long sequential narrative to how this all came about,” Ibrahim told Cannabis Now. “Our partnership with Cookies really wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for all these other things with legalization and cannabis in the Bay Area that happened first.”
Ibrahim joined the cannabis industry in 2008 as the only employee under Oaksterdam’s holding company that managed both the operations of the school and the dispensary.
In 2010, the city of Oakland opened the permitting process up for four new dispensaries. While still helping run the show at Oaksterdam, she got the ball rolling for her own permit.
“Richard Lee’s philosophy was we’re all foot soldiers in the war against the War on Drugs,” Ibrahim said. “The more of us there were, the more medicine we could provide patients, the more we can advance the ball. He was very encouraging to all of us, whether it was applying for permits or opening Measure Z [a local law deprioritizing anti-marijuana enforcement] clubs.”
Ibrahim ended up ranked number one in the Oakland selection process. But during that time, the government targeted Lee for using Oaksterdam’s resources to pay for the effort to legalize marijuana in 2010. Everyone involved was the target of a massive synchronized raid by the DEA.
“All of Oaksterdam got raided at the exact same time,” Ibrahim said. “Obviously they told Richard he couldn’t be a part of these businesses anymore. Going through that, even as an employee, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m sure it was equally and especially scary for Richard.”
After the raid, Lee distributed his Oaksterdam business assets to his managers. Timothy Sherwood, the buyer for all of Oaksterdam, received the dispensary permit, and Ibrahim helped him and Lee complete the paperwork, since she was familiar with Oakland’s new processes. They weren’t the first to transfer a dispensary license, but not far behind.
Sherwood became the sole director of Oaksterdam’s dispensary, Oakland Community Partners. When they filled out the paperwork, Sherwood and Lee put Ibrahim as the steward for the permit in the event anything happened to Sherwood.
Years past, and the two friends remained close. Sherwood was at the hospital when Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter and she accompanied him east to reunite with his family.
But Ibrahim’s tone changed as she got to the next part of the tale. Sherwood passed away last October.
She had forgotten where the paperwork had landed all those years ago. “I just kind of assumed he had done something else,” she said, “Long story short, I got a phone call from the City of Oakland telling me [Sherwood] had passed away and I had to figure out what I was going to do with this club.”
Ibrahim called an all-hands-on-deck meeting to let staff know she was intent on keeping Sherwood’s legacy and the values they had learned from Lee together alive.
At the time, she was also watching the new era of cannabis legalization lay waste to California’s legal cannabis market. The number of producers was consolidating after multiple mass extinction events around permitting and testing, plus more retail competitors were becoming abundant.
“I just really wanted to be mindful of how I could create longevity in Oaksterdam, honor Richard’s legacy, honor Timothy’s legacy, and keep these guys who are depending on me for a job after going through a traumatic event employed,” Ibrahim said. “To be honest with you, I did not see a stronger brand in the space than Cookies.”
Ibrahim pointed to Cookies’ international reach and believes the brand is “the largest movement in cannabis right now.”
She said her 2019 with MKSI Investments has generally been awesome. Prior to the Cookies Oakland launch she helped get AB 2020 passed, allowing for temporary pot event permits. She put the new law to good use as she helped get the permit for cannabis sales onsite at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival.
“Now to have us open the Cookies flagship store in the heart of Oaksterdam, and breathing life into this block is another win, and I am so proud of this team,” Ibrahim said. “They are so excited.”
At launch, they have about 24 people on staff.
Ibrahim said this will be the spot to see The Cookie Fam’s newest genetics in the East Bay. “Obviously Cookies is a huge brand and other dispensaries will have access to the genetics, but we hope to be the first to drop all the hottest strains.”
TELL US, have you ever smoked Girl Scout Cookies?