No Time for Negativity

Born Gilbert Anthony Milam Jr., the 39-year-old known colloquially as Berner has fought cancer and cannabis restrictions to emerge as perhaps the singularly most identifiable international cannabis personality. Gotti is the name of his most recent album and Cookies, his vertically-integrated cannabis empire, has outposts from California to Thailand to Toronto, where he opened a store which drew lines around the block early this year. With a 24/7 hustle and a thirst to create, and smoke bud, the musician, CEO and global magnate is putting his San Francisco-bred imprint on Canada, and all over the world. KIND editor Ben Kaplan spoke with Berner between rounds of his chemotherapy, and discovered a down-to-earth visionary with a blunt in one hand, and a peace sign in the other.
This is Berner, from San Francisco, with love.
Berner: I just took a nice bong rip. I’m ready to start.
  • Ben Kaplan: How are you feeling?

    Berner: Feeling good, man. Just taking a little break in this chemotherapy cycle. Feels good to feel normal again for a little bit.

  • BK: How do you balance your workload with the chemotherapy, with your vibes—without losing your mind?

    Berner: All this stuff going on is what keeps me positive. Essentially, when you do chemo, the best way to describe it is: you’re dying. That’s what it feels like. Chemo kills all the good cells when it kills the bad cells. But I just think of all the good stuff I’ll be able to do when I come out of it.

  • BK: Did you have to train your mind not to wallow, to resist self-pity?

    Berner: The first few days of my break in my cycle, I felt the clarity come back and I was on it. It was reflective and I started knocking out hella shit. I’ve been working like a mad man since I started taking my break and I look forward to when I get done totally—it’s game on. I’ll be appreciating life a lot more and not holding back on nothing at all.

  • BK: But I can’t imagine that this version of you—opening stores, dropping albums, getting married—is you holding back

    Berner: My boys always say that me with my back against the wall is the strongest me, and that’s why I feel like Gotti did well. I was in a place where a motherfucker felt like he was dying so I put it all in there. I feel like that might be my approach to everything moving forward. Knowing it’s possible that the cancer comes back, you have to put your all in now—get it while you can.

You can't forget the good human bond.
  • BK: No Time for Negativity is your mantra, and I feel like how you get it is just as important as what you get, even with your back against the wall. Because there’s different ways to achieve things. But positivity seems to be the jet fuel driving your bus.

    Berner: I started learning a lot about energy. If you’re feeling weird, go take a shower and wash off that weird energy. Then I started thinking about people and looking at people like energy—certain people come around and you get fired up. Other people come around and their energy drains your mood; they act a certain way and everything is a downer. And with COVID, we haven’t seen each other and everyone is divided. I was just like, ‘There’s no time for negative energy.’ You have to enjoy this shit and make the best of everything. I’ve tolerated a lot of shit from being a musician and being in the cannabis game. A lot of different types of energy—I decided to push all the negative out.

  • BK: And your circle?

    Berner: My circle is hella small.

  • BK: What’s in there?

    Berner: Laughter. Laughter is medicine. Being able to laugh with someone and vibe with someone, that’s important. Positive energy. The creative flow. And pure intention. Someone who comes in with no alternative motives. Someone that comes around and feels good, grace, and is there for the ride and brings cool things to the table—like a super homey or super homegirl. For me, the positive keeps you laughing, keeps the creative flowing, and you never have your guard up.

  • BK: As you get bigger, how do you not become suspicious of people who approach?

    Berner: It’s the longest interview cycle you can possibly imagine.

  • BK: Have you been burned?

    Berner: I’ve built up a lot of people who try and go around my back and it sucks to say this, but I bring them onto the platform and try and create a home for them and they want to be the landlord and knock you out of the whole situation. At the end of the day, I feel people out and decide if I want to put my time and energy into this person. I feel them out for as long as possible. But I’m not looking to build many more new things. If it comes my way and it’s organic, the dude’s cool or the girl’s cool, and it feels like we can do something naturally, then I’m down.

Do you want to be an angry soul or a positive ray of light so that when your time comes, you’re spreading love and energy across the world?
  • BK: You’ve learned big lessons through facing cancer but how can KIND readers learn the same lessons, without hopefully having to go through trauma?

    Berner: People need to appreciate why we’re all here and I feel like I do a lot better embracing love than anger. It makes a happier place and I feel like people do need people. With AI coming and the internet, social distancing, and the phone is like your best friend, you can’t forget the good human bond and you can’t forget what people are supposed to do for people. Things last longer than we think they do. When we leave in our physical form is our soul going to be here?

  • BK: Are you talking about life after death?

    Berner: Bro, do you want to be an angry soul that has to be tried a million times again or a positive ray of light and when your time comes you’re spreading that love and energy all across the world? Look at Bob Saget. Everyone was feeling that hella hard because he brought a positive ray of energy all across the life, and that’s the ultimate goal—to leave something behind that’s strong. You don’t want to be a dick your whole life and leave that behind. You’ll have to retry this thing a bunch of other times if you do it like that.

  • BK: We all want cash. We all want fame. We all want money. All things you have. And yet you’re talking about not being a dick on earth.

    Berner: If you take the time to open your mind you start to realize this is all a big audition for something else. There’s definitely people above us that are overseeing us and guiding us and that gut instinct might not be a gut instinct. It might be someone telling you that you shouldn’t do that. You have to work to see what the next level of this shit is. That’s how I look at it. If all you think about is your physical or monetary lifeform and all the positions you have here, you might not be doing enough work soul-wise.

  • BK: So how do you do that work?

    Berner: A little mushy every now and then might open up your mind and make you really understand.

  • BK: Also I heard a little weed also works. What was your first experience with weed?

    Berner: I smoked my first jay in my boy’s backyard. I think I was in sixth grade. We rolled it in a Wallgreen’s paper receipt. We didn’t know anything about no ZigZags. We used the receipt from the candy we got and we smoked it and as soon as we finished it, I was like: ‘I want to smoke another one.’Everyone was like, ‘Man, really?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t feel it,’ but I was super stoned.

I want what I’ve done to live longer than me.
  • BK: What do you think it was that connected?

    Berner: I loved it as a kid because I just loved it, but it really resonated for me that there was something bigger to it when I first brought California weed to Arizona when I went to visit my dad. They’d never seen Cali weed, and when I saw the look on everyone's faces when they saw that bright green crystally orange mango-smelling bud compared to the Mexican brick weed we were smoking on, I saw the power of how that connected everyone from the older brothers of my friends who used to flick our ears and how everyone bowed down to that one little bag. I was like: ‘What the fuck is that?’ I realized it connected everyone. It was more than a possession. Everyone suddenly became one.

  • BK: You got your start in the industry while working at a dispensary, right?

    Berner: Yeah, I was 18. Ever since I was 16 I was obsessed with medical cannabis. We’d pay dudes to bring us out brownies and banana breads, even full plants which we’d take and plant in our own backyards. As soon as I got my medical card, I filmed a documentary on medical cannabis at a dispensary and they hired me at the store and when I started working there, I saw all the different people who smoked bud.

  • BK: It was like an extension on your experience in Arizona.

    Berner: Exactly, and I mean everyone smoked bud, from off-duty cops to AIDS patients, cancer patients, teachers, young, old, black, white, Mexican, Asian—everyone used weed and was just so vibey about it. I was like, ‘Man, this shit is an influencer.’ I have to be involved in shit forever.

  • BK: I feel like the way you’re describing weed is similar to the way people use music. Everyone loved the Super Bowl halftime show. Everyone listens to, like, Adele.

    Berner: They both play a role in people’s day. People grieve. They celebrate. They meditate. They vibe. They use music and weed the same way. You’re riding in your car, listening to that music for motivation. I wake up in the morning and put on music to set the mood. Music and weed both affect your mood and your day and, as far as my own music, I was just a fan of it. I’ve always been a fan. That’s why I fucked with it.

  • BK: Is it hard to wear two hats? Like, the cannabis CEO that’s chopping up P&L Excel sheets and also the artist, that’s trying to reflect his life in his words?

    Berner: I’m not like a big-ass celebrity when it comes to music, but when I do see people who fuck with my shit, they tell me, ‘Man, your shit helped me get through some shit,’ and that makes me feel good. It’s not the biggest money maker for me, but I love it.

I’ve been working like a mad man—not holding nothing back at all.
  • BK: What do you think it is about you personally, that was able to step into a vacuum to provide something that didn’t exist before you? A lot of personalities have come and gone in weed that haven’t crossed over with your level of appeal.

    Berner: I’m just so obsessed with the things I do. I’m hands on with it. I think if you’re passionate and hands on with things you can achieve a lot.

  • BK: Yeah, but there’s more to it than that. Everyone’s passionate. Everyone works hard.

    Berner: You know what it is, bro? I have a fear. I want to live forever, bro. Trip on this. Look at the world. I’m in San Francisco, California. That’s where I was born and raised. I moved to Arizona for a few years, but if something I do in music or weed or even Vibes papers, which was the hardest thing I ever set out to do, if something I do can impact people from all over the world—kids in Ireland and Africa and all through Europe and Mexico—who relate to what I’m doing, that’s powerful, bro. It’s a statement.

  • BK: What’s it say?

    Berner: That what I’ve done can live longer than me. I became obsessed with that. That’s what drives me.

  • BK: Part of making it work in weed was crossing over from the legacy to the legal market. Can you talk about that journey?

    Berner: The hardest part about that is the time from harvest to shelf. It sits too long. We have to figure out a way to get the plants packaged right away and put it on the shelves easier. That would be a better experience for consumers and that’s the biggest struggle for me. That, and the pricing. And of course it not being federally legal in the US. I love when I talk to our partners in Canada and they put me on the phone with people in the government. I get goosebumps like a little kid.

  • BK: Are you a fan of the Canadian system?

    Berner: I love when I’m talking to the Canadian government about selling weed and how to get people more fired up on the legal market from the traditional market. I told them if they see a bright blue building pop up in Canada, legacy players in Canada will feel the urge to sit next to us or come against us, but either way it’s a great thing because it creates a competitive legal market. I think in Canada the government listens to the people who really sell weed. So once the laws in the US change and we improve the turnaround time and the pricing gets better, everything else is simple.

  • BK: Everything else?

    Berner: Well, not the internet. You can’t do shit on Instagram.

The positive keeps you laughing, keeps the creative flowing; you never have to put up your guard.
  • BK: Before we get out of here, I just want to rewind back to the notion of living forever. From travelling from a kid smoking weed in a Wallgreen’s receipt paper to an executive who might have the biggest weed microphone in the world. How do you make sense of your journey?

    Berner: I’m sitting here on day five of chemo and when I look in the mirror, I look weird. I lost eighteen pounds in my first chemo cycle in ten days. I don’t look good. But I think about, ‘Man, I used to smuggle Cali bud in my pants to show my boys in Arizona and, not to sell, but just to show them what good weed looked like—I wasn’t making no money, but to go from that to people in Peru or random-ass places being like, Berner, we want to smoke with you.’ That’s cool as fuck, man. I like that shit.

  • BK: How much do you smoke?

    Berner: I took a bong hit this morning.

  • BK: Yeah, but, in the documentary about making Gotti—I smoke weed, but that looked like Keith Richards spending a weekend with Peter Tosh in Kingston, Jamaica.

    Berner: I smoke so much during chemo. The hardest thing in chemo is to put food down, even to think about eating, let alone putting food down. So I just smoked so bad. Back to back to where the whole house was a cloud. I blew it down. My tolerance is pretty high right now.

  • BK: How do you keep it interesting?

    Berner: I always smoke different shit. I get breeders bringing me jars and that’s the best part of my whole life, not the global recognition, but the access to weed. People bring me thirty to 100 jars and I get to try every single one. Smoking different weed all the time you never get used to a certain strain. Some people I know only smoke kush or a certain strain, but that’s not fun. I wouldn’t want to eat Mexican food everyday for my whole life.

  • BK: KIND is distributed in legal pot shops across Canada. When you think of Canada, what comes to mind?

    Berner: I fucking love Canada. I remember when we were on tour back in the days with Wiz, each venue would make your food and when we got to Vancouver and Toronto, the food and cleanliness and love and the vibe was so unreal, we were like ‘Damn.’ They were backstage making us fresh pasta and the energy was cool as fuck.

That’s the best part of my whole life—not the global recognition, the access to weed.
  • BK: It used to be a real hassle for musicians getting across the border.

    Berner: They used to bother me at the border driving, but we made it very simple for them: we stopped bringing the tour bus and the entourage that couldn’t get in. It became literally me, my DJ and my driver and we went right though. I think actually my best memory of Canada is the Toronto tour when I was a young turnt-up single man. Canada is the shit.

  • BK: And that was before legalization.

    Berner: When it comes to the US, when we get federal, I just hope our government is as open as Canada. The guy I talked to on the phone with the government in Canada was like, ‘By the way, I just smoked a Gary Payton preroll and it was amazing,’ and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re the man.’ The Canadian government is cool as hell when it comes to understanding weed and I have to salute that.

  • BK: Can you close your eyes and see where this all ends? When will you be done? What does success, the finish line, a break, look like for you in the end?

Legacy players in Canada will feel the urge to sit next to us or come against us—either way, it’s a great thing.
  • BK: Can you close your eyes and see where this all ends? When will you be done? What does success, the finish line, a break, look like for you in the end?

    Berner: When I do acupuncture, I try to envision positive things. They say your body can manifest its future sometimes, your health. Yesterday, a guy put a needle on the top of my head—it pings focus, and he walked out of the room and turned out the lights and I was razor-thinking, super sharp, and tried to picture: What am I going to do? What’s my future like? Will it end in cancer? All I saw was me with thin-ass, shady-ass dreadlocks, because I didn’t have any hair, and I was somewhere in Hawaii with a bunch of fruit on a little farm, just smoking bud.

  • BK: Not in a mansion. Not with an entourage. Not draped in diamonds and gold.

    Berner: Shady dreadlocks, bro. That’s all I want and hopefully I can make it there. In the dream I was old and had fire fruit and good weed, and that was it.

  • BK: In the end, success for all of us is what all of us can have right now. No time for negativity. We can manifest simple pleasure, gratitude, while we’re here on earth.

    Berner: Mangoes and good weed, that’s what I want.

  • BK: When you were coming up, did you want those same things?

    Berner: No, dude. You have to fucking wake your brain up. Brother, in my city and town, I’m a pretty popular guy, but when I was on the floor after that big surgery, I was a regular naked dude on the hospital floor, reaching up for that bell to get a nurse to carry me up, to get that oxygen thing off my leg so I can use the restroom. That shit will humble you the fuck out. Put your life in a whole different perspective. I was always humble, but I’m hella more humble now.

  • BK: How so?

    Berner: I appreciate shit more than I ever did.

  • BK: The richer you get, the less you need.

    Berner: My favourite thing these days is dog parks and the farmer’s market.

  • BK: It’s funny to imagine you in that context.

    Berner: I’m high as hell, taking bong rips in the parking lot, stumbling around with red-ass eyes and people trip out, ‘Hey, Bern, here’s a fucking roasted chicken on us, take a tamale.’ I feel bad because they’re there to hustle and make their bread so now I bring like twelve eights with me to the farmer’s market. They give me free shit and I give them weed, and that makes me happy. That’s the best shit there is.