Cypress Hill’s B-Real on Building a Cannabis Brand, Managing Taxes and Predicting Politicians' Next Moves
Even for casual fans, the high-pitched, nasally flow of Cypress Hill’s lead vocalist is instantly recognizable. B-Real has been a legendary figure in hip-hop and cannabis for decades. Now that his Dr. Greenthumb dispensary franchise is quickly expanding across southern California, the voice behind classics like “Hits from the Bong” and “Insane in the Membrane” has a lot to say about the business of weed.
Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary spoke to B-Real via phone to get his thoughts on the state of the game and what should happen next:
Raj Chander: Lots of corporate multi-state operators (MSOs) are getting into the cannabis industry, but many consumers have questioned their authenticity. How do we strike a balance between supporting business while staying true to the plant?
B-Real: There’s definitely a balance, … but some of these brands that have come in, celebrity brands and big corporate brands, they’ve yet to find that middle ground. The one thing we know about the cannabis industry is people want to know you’ve been in the industry at any point—could be advocacy, activism, or actually someone in the culture who was cultivating. … They want to know that you’ve actually been involved in the culture and it’s not just a money grab. And unfortunately, for a lot of corporate entities coming in, it’s a money grab, and it’s perceived as that, and some of those brands sort of fall by the wayside no matter how much money they’ve thrown at promoting and hyping up said brand. I think you see a lot more corporate entities doing deals with brands with names now to get into the industry, to get into the culture.
Anyone coming in trying to create their own brand has had a harder time. … You have to figure out how you can engage these folks and make them familiar with your brand, and make sure that your brand quality lives up to the hype. In the last couple years we’ve seen a couple brands that have so much money to spend on marketing to be one of the most sought out brands, and when you get to their dispensary or you buy one of their products, it just does not meet the mark. Plenty of places are great in their visibility, but what they put on their counters isn’t living up to anyone’s expectations.
RC: California in particular is facing a huge issue right now with the legacy market. Why has this been such an issue, and what do you think can be done to correct it?
BR: I think the board they have in place to oversee the cannabis industry is underfunded and undermanned, so you have all these things that fall to crap because of that. … The taxes that we have here are extremely high, and that definitely needs to be changed at some point. They make it impossible for the little guy to operate here in California.
But the opportunity to make cannabis a legitimate business, man, that’s the bigger picture. So, in spite of all the hoops they make you jump through, and all the bumps in the road … to become a legitimate brand, I think this is something that we’ve all aspired to—the possibility of having legal cannabis and some of us creating our own brands within the industry. It’s been difficult for a lot of us, but it’s necessary.
And hopefully in the next year they’ll do something about these rogue shops. Here they are making money hand over fist, and some of these dispensaries don’t even pay their state taxes. They’re allowed to make maximum dollars, and we’re stuck paying these crazy-ass taxes and trying to figure it out. For us that have the bigger brands, it’s a little bit easier, but not every store has that ability to have a brand name out there that they can be competitive and not worry about who’s opening up down the street. They need to clean that part of the industry up and make it fair for the people who put everything into their business and are operating within the rules.
RC: Tell us about your brand, Dr. Greenthumb. What made you want to get into the dispensary business – was it an idea you always had? How did it grow into multiple locations – what was that progression like?
BR: As soon as dispensaries showed up on the scene I knew that we should have one, whether it was gonna be Cypress Hill—initially I tried to convince the guys to chase licenses and open these spots, but they were a little reluctant. So, I came into the business through my Dr. Greenthumb brand that I had been cultivating and building up little by little, through the music and then eventually through cannabis products and whatnot.
It took a while to open up the first shop. … It was finding the right partners that saw the vision, that we could be on the same page with. Fortunately, we were able to open up our Sylmar shop first, which is our flagship, and we showed proof of concept there. Even in a short time, we were able to pop up four more shops in California. We’re opening up our seventh shop in San Diego in the next few months. We’ve tried to focus and target California because it’s our backyard, it’s our home. … We felt if we were gonna plant flags, it would be easiest to do it here first, and expand beyond California after we get to certain markets that we want here locked up.
RC: What would you say to someone—inside or outside California—who wants to get into the industry, but doesn’t have the brand or reputation you have?
BR: It’s gonna take a lot of capital. A lot of capital. You have to build up resources, build up the team, find the right genetics, figure out how to promote and market and create the hype around this brand. All that takes a lot of money. Unless you hit the lottery somehow and just have something that hits, which is very rare in this business.
You also have to have the right team. … people that are experts, and know their lanes and are experts in their lanes. When you try to get a group of people that just have the money but none of them have resources outside that money that know how to operate inside of this industry, you are setting yourself up for failure, throwing the money into the fire. I would say that you have to find the right team to help you build properly in each lane as it relates to the cannabis industry. No one can do it by themselves.
RC: There’s a common saying: “The people who got rich in the gold rush were the ones selling picks and shovels.” What do you think about opportunities on the ancillary side of the industry?
BR: For sure, you definitely want to sell the picks and shovels as opposed to buying up all the mines and trying to gamble on what you’re mining. You see a lot of that right now. What we are trying to get involved in is tech. Right now we have this system called THC Controls that we use in our cultivation, and a few big brands also use this, it was created by people on our team. What it does is records data in your cultivation, so it allows you to see the SOPs, monitor the cultivation at all times.
So, let’s just say one room produces better than another room in terms of flowering, right? Let’s just say there was a slight difference in one room in relation to the SOPs: nutrients that were provided to the plant, etc. You can find the data between both rooms and see, “What did we do in this room that made it produce better?”
Or if we’re doing the MSO thing, let’s say here in Arizona, and we are supervising it from California, we can see the cultivators there and if they are adhering to the SOPs, if they’ve missed something, if they’ve added something that shouldn’t be in there—any sort of data, and we can actually control it from California.
RC: Many are forecasting that with the Democrats now in power, they are going to pass more cannabis-friendly laws. Do you predict more legislation is going to be passed this year? Will the new government help the industry?
BR: I think they need to help the industry, focusing on how we make it better, with less taxation on the consumer and the operator. I don’t think they can afford to look elsewhere for the type of revenue that cannabis creates. It’s a revenue stream they did not have, that our nation did not have, because they just did not have the right information.
But they gotta get it right. They gotta get the regulations right, they gotta get the taxation right. There’s no industry that’s taxed like ours. This would be a great opportunity for them to come in and make things better, make things right—but you can never depend on politicians to do this for you. This takes the people to organize and fight for it. Get it on legislation and push. Politicians will make you promises all day, but I think at this point cannabis has generated so much revenue in the states that it is legal that they cannot ignore it anymore. They need to figure out a way to win over conservatives and religious voters to get this legal across the board.
Cannabis does great, you know? We got labeled an essential business during the pandemic. That should tell you how much capital that the cannabis industry generates, that they would let it continue. Do you think the government gives a fuck about if we need this as medicine or not? They don’t! It’s about the fucking tax money it generates. They accept it even though they don’t federally recognize it. They accept those tax dollars. The states need it, and the feds will take it either way. I think that they have an opportunity to do some great things. We’ll see what happens, though. I never trust politicians to do the right thing.