Author: Ed Murrieta

UC Davis Cannabis Research Busts Federal Government’s Catch-22

California’s top agriculture school partners with a private lab licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to study the plant for the benefit of scientific professionals, health-care providers and law enforcement.

By Ed Murrieta

The University of California, Davis, is the only university west of the Mississippi licensed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct cannabis research. The official opening of UC Davis’ Cannabis and Hemp Research Center can’t come soon enough. 

The center recently partnered with a DEA-licensed laboratory to conduct off-campus plant research for scientific professionals, health-care providers and law enforcement. The center is expected to name its leadership and officially launch in about a month. 

The timing of the center’s opening coincides with the federal Food and Drug Administration punting CBD further into the gray market, saying it can’t determine whether the cannabis compound is safe for human or animal consumption. UC Davis’ research partner, a former Navy SEAL who runs the DEA-licensed laboratory at an undisclosed location in Northern California, hashtagged the quintessential government conundrum — #catch22 — in a tweet saying, “Right now the FDA says ‘you must study something before marketing it’ and the DOJ says ‘we will not permit you to produce cannabis for study.'” 

Now approved by the DEA, a branch of the Department of Justice, UC Davis and Biopharmaceutical Research Company can begin acquiring and growing cannabis for research. 

I propose framing the story with the FDA’s Catch-22 and reporting the story from UC Davis and the undisclosed location of the DEA-licensed laboratory, interviewing the newly named director of UC Davis’ Cannabis and Hemp Research Center, the DEA-licensed lab’s ex-Navy SEAL EO and cannabis industry leaders who potentially may partner with UC Davis the way wine, brewing and coffee industry players partner with the agriculture university’s other well-regarded research centers. 


Rapping Weed Mogul Berner Is High on Haight Street and Social Justice


Berner, right, and Shawn Richard, inside Berner’s on Haight, their San Francisco cannabis store that opens Dec. 21.

The creator of Cookies, the popular cannabis and lifestyles brand, helps businesses founded by victims of America’s War on Drugs, including the first legal pot store in San Francisco’s counterculture epicenter. 

By Ed Murrieta

SAN FRANCISCO — As a Mexican-American kid from one of the city’s working-class neighborhoods, Gilbert Milam Jr., aka Berner, the creator of the popular cannabis and lifestyles brand Cookies, wanted a career in music. 

He got a day-job as a doorman at an influential medicinal cannabis dispensary, eventually managing the joint and buying and marketing all the product in the store. 

His rapping and beat-making also took off. 

Cookies, the potent plant strains Berner popularized in song and on stage, blazed a trail, becoming a multi-million-dollar vertically integrated brand that spans high-end cannabis products, cannabis retail stores from Los Angeles to Seattle, designer streetwear (aka $100 hoodies), premium paraphernalia, and Berner’s latest cannabis kingpin move: partnering with businesses founded by victims of America’s War on Drugs.

I propose a feature-length profile of Berner, pegged to the opening of Berner’s on Haight, the cannabis store he’s funded in partnership with an equity applicant — the cannabis world’s bureaucratic buzzwords for helping people affected by the War on Drugs cut through the red tape of a newly legal green rush. 

While equity applicants have ample experience with cannabis from the illicit market, most lack money to launch or sustain businesses in the heavily regulated, capital-intensive legal market.

That’s where Berner, 36, and Cookies, founded in 2012, come in, and that’s where my story begins: at the Dec. 21 opening of Berner’s on Haight, the first legal cannabis store in the San Francisco neighborhood where, among other trippy highlights, pothead Merry Prankster Ken Kesey and members of the Grateful Dead were famously busted in the 1960s. 

Berner and Cookies partnered with Shawn Richard, the store’s licensee who grew up in the fabled neighborhood, sold drugs on Haight Street, and did prison time. Funding and operational assistance from Berner and Cookies enabled Richard and his partners to open for business, something they otherwise could not easily afford to do, equity license or not. 

“You can’t do it alone,” Richard, who owns 40 percent of the Cole Ashbury Group, the business entity that owns the store’s permit, told me for a story I reported for the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. “Equity partners have to have some type of big funding. Cookies has the funding to help us open up this store and they understand the equity plan. And Berner is a hometown homeboy.”

Berner’s on Haight indeed sparks hometown pride for the kid from one of the city’s working-class neighborhoods.

“I knew a lot of people were being taken advantage of so it felt good to bring a real fair deal to the table for Shawn,” Berner told me earlier this fall while standing inside the store as construction was under way. “The fact that we’re opening up our first store in San Francisco on Haight Street with Frisco natives is the biggest compliment to our brand, straight up. You see the smile on my face? I can’t stop smiling. It’s life-goal stuff. When we opened the Cookies clothing store on Haight Street that was a big life goal. Now that we’re here with cannabis, where the herb started, it’s beautiful.”

The opening of Berner’s on Haight (which San Francisco’s cannabis office won’t allow to be called Cookies out of concern the name appeals to children) follows the Dec. 6 opening in Oakland of a fifth Cookies-branded cannabis store, and coincides with Berner’s fourth annual Christmas concert in San Francisco on Dec. 21, follows a national tour, two new albums and a documentary about Berner’s music, clothing and cannabis.

For my story, I’ll follow Berner at the openings of both San Francisco and Oakland stores and interview him on his Cookies tour bus and backstage at his Christmas concert. Other angles to be explored: Berner as the most powerful and successful Latino in the cannabis industry; Berner’s beefs with industry rivals and technology gatekeepers; and what Berner’s social media posts  about his obsessive work ethic, stashes of pot and cash, and missing his 10-year-old daughter when he’s on the road reveal about a rapping weed mogul who balances work, family and fame.

Juliet Han rocks roasting and research at UC Davis’ Coffee Center

Juliet Han

A part-time job in a coffee shop after college crescendos into a coffee career at a college for punk-loving alumna of acclaimed specialty roaster Blue Bottle Coffee

By Ed Murrieta

DAVIS — Juliet Han first went to college for music. She went back to college for coffee.

Han studied music at the University of California, San Diego. A former bouncer and merch girl at punk music venues, she was interested in a career in music policy and worked at a royalties agency in Washington, D.C., until she burned out and quit over industry corruption.

Han already had a second gig to fall back on, a part-time barista job in a trendy coffee shop, which led to her last job as head roaster at Blue Bottle Coffee, which led to her current job roasting beans, educating undergraduates and conducting university-level research that could rescue coffee from botched beans and climate change.

As head roaster and Probat Roasting Fellow at the three-year-old Coffee Center at the University of California, Davis, Han, hired in August as the center’s first full-time staff member, manages roasting for research and education and oversees “The Design of Coffee,” the center’s flagship course, which outstrips sex and beer in popularity among undergraduate electives.

For a story that’s both a profile of Han, a 38-year-old first-generation Korean-American who holds coffee’s equivalent of sommelier status, and a feature on UC Davis’ Coffee Center, I propose auditing Han’s laboratory and lecture; joining Han in a roasting/research session; and having coffee with Han to discuss the future of coffee and find out how a part-time job supporting her music policy dream crescendoed into a coffee career that’s now going on 15 years, mostly at acclaimed specialty roaster Blue Bottle and now at one of the country’s top ag-sciences universities, where the Coffee Center supports research, education and industry collaboration for coffee the way other UC Davis institutes do for wine and beer.

One question I’ll pose to Han may have an obvious answer: Does Han feel any less homesick in her college life after her former employer, Blue Bottle Coffee, announced last month that it’s moving all of its West Coast roasting operations from Oakland to West Sacramento, 12 miles from Han and her new gig at UC Davis?

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