The line stretched down the block and across the street. Some die-hard fans said they had even camped out overnight.
But the crowd of more than 100 people on Key Highway in Baltimore over the weekend weren’t hoping for a chance at coveted concert tickets or a limited-edition sneaker release.
They were buying medical marijuana.
Cereal Milk, Cheetah Piss, Gary Payton, Gelato 42, Georgia Pie and The Soap, to be exact.
Cookies, one of the most well-known West Coast weed brands, has arrived on the East Coast through a licensing partnership with Culta, a medical cannabis cultivation company in Federal Hill, allowing the Baltimore dispensary to grow the popular San Francisco strains and sell them to patients and other medical marijuana dispensaries.
Potent California marijuana has been making its way east for decades on the black market. But Cookies’ launch in Baltimore shows how established West Coast brands can use licensing deals to gain an early foothold in medical-only markets such as Maryland, where recreational use is likely to become legal in the coming years. While legalization is not expected to move forward this year, the General Assembly could seriously consider it in 2021, legislators say.
“We’re humbled that Cookies recognized the quality we’re putting out and wanted to partner‚” said Mackie Barch, Culta’s president and chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited about representing the Cookies family here in Maryland and showing them how Maryland does it.”
Cookies sells branded clothing and smoking accessories, and its hype is based on the buzz around the famous “Girl Scout Cookies” and other strains grown by the “Cookies Fam,” an affiliated San Francisco cultivation crew. (It became just “Cookies” after the Girl Scouts protested.)
Cookies CEO Gilbert Milam Jr., an L.A. rapper signed to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Entertainment who is known as Berner to his 1.2 million Instagram followers, attended the Baltimore launch event at Culta on Saturday and posted a video on Instagram of himself walking the line and fist-bumping many in the waiting crowd. He also attended an after-party with fans following the launch.
Maryland medical marijuana must be grown in-state, so Cookies has provided the seeds and specifications to Culta, which “grew the [expletive] out of this first batch," Berner said in a statement. Culta, one of about a dozen licensed medical cannabis cultivators in Maryland, grows its own crop in a warehouse and the East Coast’s first legal outdoor commercial marijuana farm on nearly an acre of land in Cambridge, according to The Washington Post.
“The music scene and culture in Baltimore is legendary and Maryland deserves the best flower," Berner said. “Taking this step with Culta was a no-brainer after seeing that quality is their main focus. I’m looking forward to building with Culta and bringing an incredible menu to Maryland.”
Culta’s Baltimore retail store will continue to carry Cookies strains through the first three months of 2020 and will distribute Cookies products to other select dispensaries beginning in March.
Cookies’ entrance in Maryland won’t go unnoticed by other West Coast marijuana brands looking to expand their cult followings to a national scale, according to one industry insider.
Licensing the strains to local cultivation operators provides a way for well-known companies like Cookies who have battled their way to top name recognition in competitive western markets with high-quality marijuana and branding to enter emerging markets in states like Maryland, which have stricter laws and a limited number of growing licenses, said Kris Krane, president of Arizona-based 4Front Ventures.
Krane, whose company has four Mission Dispensaries medical marijuana retail locations in Maryland, said the move represents a larger trend that is occurring in the market.
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“If the ultimate goal is to get into a newer [recreational] adult-use market, you’d want to have a foothold and get your brand known in the medical market,” Krane said. “Launching now is going to get them a lot of exposure in a market where they won’t have as much of a following.”
That trend will benefit East Coast operators by providing them a way to grow and sell the higher quality California marijuana, Krane said.
“They’ve built themselves to be able to navigate limited-license states,” he said, of East Coast operators. “At the same time, the best brands in cannabis, by and large, all are coming out of the West Coast.”
In his Instagram post, Berner noted that the line for Cookies launch began well before 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“Thank you Baltimore for welcoming us with open arms,” he wrote in the caption.