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The “Real” Cookies

There’s only one trademarked Girl Scout Cookie — and it’s a cookie, not the famous cannabis strain of the same name. But there is an “official” brand of that most-hyped flower of the past few years — which begs the question: Have you been smoking off-brand biscuits?

A thin young man strides through the winter sunshine on Mission Street on a recent weekday morning, headed directly towards a burly fellow standing on the sidewalk with a handgun clipped to his belt.

The armed man is standing guard outside a storefront with barred windows just south of Geneva Avenue, near San Francisco’s far southern edge and the Daly City border. The young man stops. Another armed man is standing just inside an alcove at the business’s door. A pause.

“This Cookies SF?” the young man asks, before he’s buzzed inside the storefront’s security gate with a nod.

Yes, indeed: This is Cookies SF, home of the “real” Girl Scout Cookies, the dark-and-minty blend of marijuana that name-dropping rappers and flavor-chasing cannabis connoisseurs turned into a bona fide, San Francisco-bred cannabis fad that’s still going strong.

Echoing the “purple” craze of the mid-to-late aughts, “Girl Scout Cookies” or one of the many, many variants — Animal Cookies, Thin Mints, Monster Cookies, just to name a few — is carried at dispensaries all over California. Strains claiming the name have also claimed Cannabis Cup victories up and down the coast.

The cookies-seeking man was right to ask if he was in the proper place. From the exterior, the dispensary’s signage still bears the name “Tree Med,” the mark of the dispensary’s former operators.

Further adding to the confusion is the fact that in San Francisco, there are two dispensaries using the name “cookies.” About 20 blocks away up Mission Street towards downtown, you can buy Sherbet, OG Thin Mints, and other similarly-named cookie-themed cannabis flowers at The Cookie Co. 415.
This begs a question: What are “real” Cookies? And who says, anyway?

The answer is a crash course in cannabis genetics as well as an introduction to pre-legalization business practices.

BIRTH OF THE COOKIES

If you go into a bar and order a vodka soda, the result will be predictable: a neutral grain-distilled spirit and soda water. A vodka soda in Las Vegas will be much the same as a vodka soda in Hong Kong or on the moon.

The same is not true with cannabis. OG Kush in the Mission might be different from OG Kush in Bernal Heights. That’s because unlike bars stocking Grey Goose, made following a strict formula under controlled conditions, different dispensaries are using different growers.

These different growers are growing under different conditions, using different seeds or clones to start their crops. All these differences mean different results, meaning different cannabis — this is a flower that’s sensitive to subtle changes in heat, humidity and CO2 levels, remember, and a psychoactive one to boot — and a wide, wide world of weed sharing a common title.

Weed breeders are notorious for their secrecy and the jealousy with which they’ll guard a beloved strain with unique, one-of-a-kind traits. That’s where Cookies began, the man behind the desk in Cookies SF’s back room is telling me.

This is Luke (he asks I not use his last name), and he’s the operator of Cookies SF. An experienced dispensary operator, he inked a deal to exclusively carry cannabis bred by a crew called “The Cookie Family,” a faceless-but-famous pot-growing crew anchored by Instagram personality @Jigga415.


They were the growers to hit upon strains like Cherry Pie, Sherbet, and newcomer Gelato as well as Girl Scout Cookies. All those strains share a parent in common: a cut of Durban Poison known as
F1.

And F1 is the key, and the genesis of Girl Scout Cookies.

Durban Poison is a South African landrace strain known for a spicy nose and an uplifting sativa punch.

But F1 is a little different.

Its hit is long and stony, more indica than sativa. It has a musty, sweet scent that “lingers in the air,” Luke said, and has a distinct look: So dark it’s almost black, with long red colas.
In other words, just the kind of genetic mutation to launch a weed fad.

The Cookie Family is keeping the F1 cut of Durban, close to the vest. You can’t buy clones or cuttings. Other Cookies editions sold at other dispensaries may come from S1 Durban — that is, Durban grown from a seed found in a bag of “official” GSC that someone sprouted and planted.

But cannabis is tricky. New genetics are not stable. There is no guarantee that a daughter-of-F1 grown from seed will have the same traits.

THE HYPE

Like the hyphy-fueled “purps” fad, Girl Scout Cookies blew up and became a phenomenon thanks to showmanship and business savvy.

It was Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa who appears to be the first big-time musician to mention Girl Scout Cookies, way back in 2011. He was tight with Sunset District-bred businessman and rapper Berner, who used to manage the dispensary at The Hemp Center in the Richmond District.

Thanks to Berner, Cookies has a dedicated and successful pitchman.

He’s pushed the Cookies name well into the consciousness of cannabis consumers and identity-conscious kids with frequent mentions in his lyrics and by slapping the Cookies name on clothes, grinders, roll trays, and anything else that can hold a logo.

THE COMPETITION

“Cookies SF” is a registered trademark, of the clothing and gear company. No such branding protections yet exist for cannabis: The U.S. Patent and Trade Office canceled a plan to allow growers to trademark plant names in 2010.

And in general, plant varieties can’t be trademarked.


As a result, market demand and lack of regulation means there’s cannabis called Girl Scout Cookies sold all over the place.

Over at The Cookie Co. 415, an offshoot of a San Jose-based crew that also run a South Bay club called Cookie Co. 408, employees have their own proprietary Durban — Blue Durban — from which Monster Cookies and other efforts are derived.


Some people might prefer that Durban, which is a little lighter and airier than the stinky, stony F1.

But are they the “real Cookies?” For the above reasons, no. But it may not matter.

The weed world changes fast. Purps came and went. Cookies may already be on their way out. Luke thinks so.

“Girl Scout Cookies are last year’s news,” he says. He’s banking on yet another strain to be this year’s hotness: Gelato, the follow-up to Sherbet.

Is it the next hype strain? Maybe. If it’s not, the new Cookies are sitting somewhere under grow lights, or curing in a plastic tub, waiting for the right moment — and the right momentum.


Cookie Fight
OG Thin Mints (Cookie Co. 415) vs. GSC Private Reserve (Cookies SF)

We assembled a panel of experts to judge these two strains against each other, plus a third competitor: actual Girl Scout Cookies, like the Thin Mints you eat.

Neither smelled exactly like the minty, chocolate-y path towards obesity. But neither smelled like each other, either.

GSC Private Reserve, with the F1 Durban parent, had a dark, dank nose that filled the room as soon as you opened the container.

OG Thin Mints had a lighter nose, with a slightly brighter kick.

The stone was heavier and darker with GSC, too, with more faithful sativa notes familiar to Durban from OG Thin Mints.

In other words: one was better for insomnia and pain, the other probably more suited for a mood-lightening afternoon hit. The third proved an adequate snack.

Photo by Mike Koozmin