Berner, Cookies founder, makes it big as Latino cannabis trailblazer

Berner is a hard man to define, but the San Francisco native says one word describes him best. 

"I would just say I'm a workaholic. That's probably the best way to describe it," he said.

At 38 years old, he's not putting limits on what's next. 

It's been 16 years since his first album was released, and he says his music still has a message. 

"I think I'm telling them that anything's possible. I'm trying to tell them to keep that good vibe and that good energy out there," Berner said. "I feel like a lot of my records are just feel-good records. And I'm also representing the struggle because it took a lot to get where I'm at."

Eleven years ago he founded his famous lifestyle and cannabis brand known as Cookies. 

This summer, Insider called Cookies a $1 billion empire. 

The business landed Berner on the cover of Forbes magazine. he is the first cannabis entrepreneur to grace the cover of that magazine since it was founded back in 1917. 

"Like when I hit the cover of Forbes magazine that was huge for a Latino business entrepreneur with the music, the things I've accomplished with Cookies, I just want to motivate more Latinos," he said. 

Berner grew up in San Francisco, a young kid in a studio apartment dreaming of what could be. 

"I mean I grew up on top of a Mexican restaurant on Fillmore and California, and my father's family is all 100% Mexican. So I like to just say I'm Latino," he said about how he defines himself. "Some Mexican, Italian, but more kind of resonate with the Latino culture."

Back then he says there weren't a lot of people at the top who looked like him. 

"But when I started getting to where I was going and the number one thing I heard when I was out and about was ‘You motivate me.’ And when I look at my shows and I look at when I go around the world, I look at the people in the crowd. A lot…a lot of them are Latino. And they say, ‘you motivate me to start my business, to follow my dreams, to do music, to try to get in the cannabis industry.’ And when you look around the cannabis industry, there's not a lot of Black and brown people. So I'm here as a face to motivate people to follow their dreams and to force their way in." 

When it comes to cannabis, Berner has always been in. 

"Well, I fell in love with cannabis when I first tried it," he said.

His first job when he was 18 was at a marijuana dispensary. 20 years later, he calls the business of cannabis both controversial and cutthroat. 

It's also complicated. Industrywide there has been an effort to destigmatize marijuana use in the Latino community. Stigmas born in part from how the U.S. has viewed and handled marijuana use but also from policies dating back to the 1930s that negatively associated marijuana with Black and Hispanic communities. 

With almost 50 dispensaries in operation, and locations around the globe, Berner is looking to change the conversation for the entire industry. 

"I think Cookies has helped normalize cannabis," Berner said. "I think we're one of the first brands. I think we're one of the first globally recognized brands. So I think we help normalize cannabis just like a real business. But, you know, at the same time, we're a big platform. If you go to a Cookie store, if you go into Berner's on Haight and San Francisco right now, you'll probably see the shelf is probably maybe 30% of our brand and then the rest is other brands. And so we built a platform all around the world to help catapult other brands and other good players in the industry." 

Now he is building on that platform with what he calls his creative compound in Marin County. 

It' 's a place to continue to show marijuana mania, support his Cookie brand, his podcasts and his all-new projects. A place he found last year just after he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. 

"Honestly, when I got cancer, I bought this building. And it's because they say, you know, for cancer survivors, it's really about your diet. It's about your health, but it's about purpose. So besides being a father, I'm working. I have another kid right now as well. Besides being a father, you know, you have to have a purpose to be here," he said. "And I'm [going to] ride the wave until it hits the sand. So as long as I got this momentum and I got this reach, I'm going to do as much as I can with it."

Today, Berner is cancer free and says he is appreciating life more, trying to take more time for himself, his 15-year-old daughter and the new baby on the way. 

But even now, he is committed to making sure his brand is a reflection of him. 

"I decide which one I like and then we pick them. And if I pick them, then they will come up with the design. So long as I'm alive, I decide that's the way it has to be."

And the man who is hard to define is in some ways still that little kid living above a restaurant in San Francisco dreaming about what could be. 

"I pass by [the street corner] all the time just to remind myself, like, this is where the dreams were, where I used to dream about everything we're doing now kind of manifests a lot of it."