The Cypress Hill alum gets real about L.A.’s cannabis culture.
Before B-Real rapped the lyrics “Hello, my name is Dr. Greenthumb” in 1998, the L.A.-born musician had already achieved critical and commercial success as a member of the iconic Grammy-nominated hip-hop group Cypress Hill. The South Gate artist went on to solidify his status as a West Coast hip-hop legend with timeless collaborations and diverse media ventures — his YouTube show, “The Smokebox,” regularly generates hundredsofthousands of views. He’s maintained an enduring relevance that most musicians at the start of their careers would consider a pipe dream. As a cannabis aficionado, he’s also been high, like basically the entire time.
B-Real’s relationship with cannabis is well-documented, and for years, he’s been a vocal yet measured advocate. In 2016, he surprised many by opposing Proposition 64 — which legalized recreational marijuana use in California — because proposed tax rates would hamstring small shops and privilege big businesses. There might be a touch of irony to the fact that he now owns a chain of successful dispensaries called (what else?) Dr. Greenthumb’s, but only a cynic would fault him for it.
Besides, he was right. In Los Angeles, largely due to tax rates, hundreds of illegal cannabis shops dot the landscape. According to a Los Angeles Times report, these shops “have a massive competitive advantage, as they offer lower prices by skirting the state’s 15% cannabis sales tax as well as the city’s 10% rate.” It’s hard to run a legit operation when consumers, often none the wiser, chose to patronize shops with cheaper prices.
B-Real’s latest venture, a Dr. Greenthumb’s location in downtown Los Angeles, opened its doors in October 2019 and falls into that minority class of legal, fully licensed shops. In this interview with Los Angeleno, the artist slash businessman discusses the challenges of opening a legal dispensary in Southern California, offers some advice for the canna-curious and dives into our city’s unique relationship with cannabis.
How did you get started in the dispensary game?
I wanted to start a brand with Dr. Greenthumb outside of music when [cannabis] started to go medical. I started off doing a Dr. Greenthumb granola bar and stuff like that. Little by little, it was about getting the brand in the cannabis industry. We had been approached about doing some stores and stuff like that, but we wanted to build the brand a little bit more and wait for the right situation before we made it into the store. When it started to open up here in California in terms of making cannabis products, I thought the Dr. Greenthumb name from Cypress would be a good brand, and a good avenue to get into the cannabis industry because people were familiar with the song. It pretty much went from there, from being a brand with a strain to eventually opening stores.
What products will you carry in the shop downtown?
We’re going to have a lot of our Insane brand stuff, our good friend Cookies’ brand stuff. We’re going to have Marathon. I mean, all the top-shelf products. We pretty much try to work with everyone and try to have everyone on our shelves that the consumers hear about and want to try. It’s gonna be an array of flavors man, I gotta tell you.
Is there anything special about opening up the newest location in downtown L.A.?
Well, I mean opening up any of the locations is great. I mean Sylmar, the flagship shop, that was amazing because it was something that became a reality. But opening in Los Angeles, which a lot of our fan base and the consumers have been calling for … We kept on saying it was something we were working toward and finally we were able to get that situation and lock it in. It’s great, you know, because this is our backyard, Los Angeles. To be able to have a shop in Sylmar and Los Angeles, I think those connected the dots for us. It’s a great situation, man. We’re really excited.
Is it challenging to open a legitimate dispensary in Los Angeles?
Oh yeah, definitely. Basically, it’s making sure that you’re compliant with all your products and have your licensing in place. Because we’re vertical, we have our cultivation and all that stuff, we want to make sure we’re compliant and licensed up to the 10th [degree], to everything that relates to what we’re doing there from distribution, manufacturing, retail, all of that. It takes some time and it’s definitely pretty expensive and it’s a process.
But if you have a brand and you have momentum, it’s worth the investment, it’s worth the time. But we wouldn’t have been able to expand this quickly had we not focused on making a quality product and highlighting the brand behind it and playing the waiting game. For us, some of the expansion is coming quickly, but we’re still taking our time with other things so we get it right. We’re not in a hurry to get it wrong.
Dozens wait in line for opening day at Dr. Greenthumb’s. Photo courtesy of BEREALTV.
It’s predicted that by 2025 the recreational cannabis industry will be worth $66.3 billion. Are there any industry trends that excite you, or maybe concern you?
I mean, the thing that’s concerning everybody right now is those vape pens. That’s something that we’re sort of staying away from, in terms of us creating our own pens, and what’s going into them, so that’s definitely a concern. The other thing is the constant new regulation that comes in because sometimes that comes in from left field that you’ve got to deal with those things, and sometimes they take time. That can set you back. Fortunately for our team, we’ve been able to stay on it.
When Cypress Hill was coming up in the early ‘90s, did you ever imagine that recreational cannabis would be legal?
I mean, it’s something we wanted, something that we thought could be possible. People wanted change in terms of the way people looked at cannabis and what could be done with it, and people got in the fight, which was a great thing. The stigma started dropping away. It’s great to see where it’s at now, where people are actually educated about it. People that don’t smoke understand the benefits from it economically and medicinally — it’s amazing where we’re at now.
If someone was completely new to cannabis and was looking for a way to learn about it and understand the culture, what books or materials would you recommend to them?
I think the first fundamental book they need to read is “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer. And once they read that book, other information is all over the place. There’s good information on the internet these days, with incredible people who have been in the cannabis industry for years. But I think the best way to get understanding is to read that book, man. That book put a lot of people onto what the possibilities were, other than just consumption. And that was a very important book to us, as activists and as a band, we learned from Jack Herer and we learned from reading that book. But I think the education is getting out there because people don’t look at cannabis the same way they did 20 years ago.
Is there something unique about Los Angeles’ cannabis culture?
I think the unique part about Los Angeles is that Southern California cannabis is grown indoor. A lot of cannabis comes from up north, which is grown outdoor. A lot of the cannabis that was grown in Los Angeles was grown hydro[ponic] style. So that’s the unique part. It became a culture out here, because before anyone was doing that you had to buy some outdoor weed from up north or Canada, or from some homegrown farmer, whatever. Hydroculture hit Los Angeles heavy, and that’s one of those things that was really embraced here and, no pun intended, cultivated here.
Do you have any other projects going on?
Yeah, I’m going to release a solo album next year called “Let Me Tell Ya Something” produced by Scott Storch. It’s 10 songs and it’s a vibe and I look forward to people hearing that. It’s gonna be dope.