Despite operating in one of the oldest and most mature markets in the country, Josh Berman of the Hash Agency in Seattle was quick to diagnose where he thought Washington’s adult-use cannabis industry might be lacking.
“Washington has exceptional growers, but pretty unexceptional genetics, quite frankly,” he says, noting a few exceptions, of course. “Most of the hype genetics are made in California. There’s a much more diverse breeding culture down there.”
But Berman, who has long roots in Washington’s medical and recreational industries, knew the state’s British Columbia-trained cultivators were masters of indoor growing and that with the right intellectual property the top shelf at dispensaries across the state was available for the taking. Betting that California genetics were eventually going to “storm the gates and take over,” Berman decided to do more than plan for the eventuality.
“Might as well just lead it,” he says.
Today, the Hash Agency — and its state-licensed producer/processor arm, PowerPact — holds the exclusive license in Washington state to distribute Cookies intellectual property, one of the hottest and fastest-growing brands in the country, known for its exclusive, premium, California-based genetics. And like in most other states, the brand co-founded and promoted by the Bay Area rapper Berner has taken the Evergreen State by storm.
“Cookies is methodically about bringing the newest, hypest genetics,” Berman says. “There’s a massive demand. It outpaces the supply.”
While Hash Agency has the exclusive rights to distribute the Cookies brand in Washington, the company does not have a cultivation license. Instead, two farms are licensed to grow Cookies genetics one in Spokane and one in Seattle. Together, they produce 32 different Cookies strains, 16 at each facility and on a rotation that produces a harvest every 18 days. It’s all hand-trimmed by a team of 14 at the Seattle facility, Alki Herbal, and then shipped to PowerPact on Bainbridge Island for packaging and distribution.
Both production sites are overseen by Kevin Hansen who is known as ThunderChief and co-founder of the cultivation company that bears his nickname.
“They take as much as we produce,” he says of PowerPact, and the market in general. “No matter what we’re producing, it’s pre-sold.”
Hansen not only has experience working on a medical plantation in Humboldt County, but is a high school friend of Berman, who calls him “the best out-of-state cultivator in the Cookies lineup.”
“He has it dialed,” says Berman.
ThunderChief Farms has been in operation going back to Washington’s medical days and was among the first round of licensees for the recreational market, building a name off the quality flower he produced. Hansen says his style of grow and the Cookies genetics are a “match made in heaven” and though he had success before he began cultivating for company, the last 18 months have “kind of been a blur.”
“It’s just kind of exploded,” he says. “Once you start growing some of these strains, you see they’re really something special.”
Driven by genetics
Though Cookies is the highest profile brand he’s worked with, it’s not Berman’s first experience with California genetics or with Cookies CEO Berner. Berman first met the rapper during Washington’s medical days when he was running the PDA Lounge dispensary, which was located near The Crocodile, a landmark Seattle concert venue. When Berner would play the club, he’d stop by PDA, and Berman says the two built a relationship.
“We spoke the same language,” Berman says.
Prior to launching Cookies in Washington, Berman helped bring to the state both the Exotikz and Lemonnade brands, two of Berner’s other top-shelf brands prized for their genetics.
“We were the first place in the country to have the Lemonnade brand, even before California,” he says. “We were Berner’s first partner. We really built this model.”
Together using those brands, Berman says he helped Berner build the licensing model that after a lot of “trial and error” was “upgraded” for the Cookies partnership. Berman says the whole concept was “sort of new to the industry.”
For Cookies, Berman says it is an “IP-driven concept” and compares it to the music industry, like a label distributing an album. The genetics are licensed, as is the branding and the required packaging.
“They don’t get paid off the sale of weed,” Berman says of Cookies. “They get paid off the royalty of the sale the package.”
Berman says one of the main roles of Hash Agency is finding cultivators who can meet the quality standards of the brand, which not only has to look premium, but smell that way too. He says so many growers can produce a pretty flower, but often need a little direction to “get them over the top.”
“The terps have to be there,” Berman says. “The bag appeal is not enough.”
But with ThunderChief Farms on board, the two licensed facilities are now meeting all standards of quality and consistency, Hansen says. The company added 110 new lights in the last two months of 2021, but is still only barely meeting demand.
According to Berman, the Cookies brand can be found in about 80 stores across Washington, and he says another 80 are clamoring to get their hands on the product. And though Berman is not associated with the state’s first Cookies-branded retail store in Tacoma, PowerPact makes sure to keep it stocked.
“That store gets first dibs,” he says.
The company plans to launch new products into the Washington market this year, though Berman says Hash Agency may even shrink the number of stores that carry the product to help promote its exclusivity, building Apple-like Cookies installations inside specific retailers.
“We’re slowly going to grow the canopy footprint but nothing major,” he says, but notes that he will continue to keep his eye out for the latest trends in cannabis genetics, no matter which state they originate in.
“Hash (Agency) is really about premium genetics,” Berman says. “Cookies is obviously in that lane.”