My dad was a police officer. I grew up shooting guns and going rafting and skiing with all the police officers—I grew up around that. But, on the other side, my mom was a total hippie and very liberal. She was just a lot of fun.
The first time I ever smoked weed, I was about 11 or 12 years old. My older sister had a boyfriend at the time, and they went out to the side of the house to smoke a joint. They were rolling it right in front of my mom, so I asked if I could go with them, and she was like, “Yeah, go ahead.” It was 1986 or something, so I think it was just, like, some Mexican weed. I was expecting this awesome experience, but afterward, I was like, “This is lame. That didn’t do anything to me.” I didn’t realize that there were much better options.
When I really started smoking, I still thought I was going to be a police officer.
When I really started smoking, I still thought I was going to be a police officer. I really respected my dad—he’s a solid guy with a great reputation. I would have been a shoo-in to be a Sacramento County sheriff. That was where I was going with it. But my dad basically stopped me. He said, “It’s a really hard life, and you deal with a lot of hard issues. If you can do anything else, go do something else.” This was after he was a police officer for over 10 years. So, here I am.
He had no idea what I did until about two years ago. I kept it from him the whole time. He lived in Sacramento, and I moved to the Bay Area a long time ago. My mom passed away, so I wasn’t going back there as much, and I don’t have any family out here. He just saw me working, and he knew I did okay. I think that’s all a dad really wants. I told him I was in construction because I was always working at a job site and had a truck and materials, right? He was just like, “Okay.”
My dad didn’t really ask questions—he’s super by-the-book. He was a homicide detective. So I waited until after he retired to tell him. He had already moved away to another state, and I was visiting him. It was just like when you’re a kid: I was sitting on the carpet, and he was on his bed, and we were drinking some coffee. I said, “Hey dad, I’ve got something to tell you.” And he’s like, “What’s up?” And I go, “I grow weed. And I have for a long time.”
It got quiet; I was waiting. Finally, he says, “Son, I know.” And I go, “What do you mean you know?” He goes, “What do you think, I’m stupid? I knew you were doing something. You got a good life; people know who you are. What’s going on?“ I said, “Alright, dad, let me explain.” So I pulled up the internet, and I started showing him stories and things: “This is what I do. This is me.” He was blown away.
He grew up in a small town in Mexico with 10 brothers and sisters. He grew up in a thatched hut, about 15 feet by 15 feet. It had a dirt floor—no power, no running water. He didn’t even own a pair of shoes. He came to the United States when he was 17, taught himself English to become a police officer, and he served the community here for 30 years. I look up to him so much. At that moment, I said to him, “Dad, I’m at the tip of the spear. You help your community. Let me explain to you who I am, and how I’m helping my community.”
I got known in San Francisco for growing good weed and bringing it to cannabis clubs. The clubs that I worked with and had relationships with were good people who were serving the community. I’d go in a couple of times a week to say hi, and people would say, “Hey, that’s the guy who grows your stuff.” I’d talk to them about how I grow, and I’d get them involved. They loved that. I think that was the beginning of the natural way that I started to connect with the cannabis community.
I was in my living room when it hit me: “This is the best weed I’ve ever had. Ever.”
About 10 or 12 years ago is when I made the strain Sunset Sherbert. I was in my living room when it hit me: “This is the best weed I’ve ever had. Ever.” I’d been smoking a lot since I was 16, and I think I was 30 at the time. I sat there, and I thought, “Well, how do I market this? How do I attach myself to this?” Because at the time you couldn’t own cannabis—there was no way I could do that. It was a different time. No one was really sticking their necks out and saying, “Hey, I grow cannabis.” There were raids. So I thought about how some people had created clothing lines and had been able to get some sort of IP protection around them. My idea was to make a name for myself.
It was right when Instagram was in its infancy. I said, “Alright. I need to make an alias, and I need to make this character that could be me.” Like the Wu-Tang Clan–I grew up listening to them. Each one of them had their own identity, and it builds their crew. So I thought, “Well, what’s my identity going to be?”
When I was circulating the Sherbert early on, some of my friends would come and say, “Hey, when’s that Sherbinski going to be back? Where’s that Sherbinski?” It was Sunset Sherbert, but they were giving it a nickname. I thought that was cool. I was like, “The Sherbinski, okay.”
Mr. Sherbinski started to grow as an identity. Now when people came in, it wasn’t, “Hey, that’s the guy that grows your stuff.” It was, “Hey, there’s Sherbinski.” Then people started to tag me, or when they’d buy the flower from the club, they’d say, “Hey, just got that Sherbert. Thanks, Mr. Sherbinski.” And as Instagram was really starting to ramp up, I was also working with a lot of artists in the hip-hop community. I was getting it into their hands just naturally.
I’m trying to change the perception of what cannabis is. It’s been a long time since the Sixties and Seventies, and it’s time to put a lot of those stereotypes to bed. What’s interesting and fun for me now is moving into streetwear and high fashion. I just started doing shirts and hoodies, like, six months ago. It’s crazy, the people that want to be involved. I really look up to Virgil Abloh—what he’s doing on a streetwear level and how he’s been able to translate that into high fashion at Louis Vuitton. He does it like it’s dope. But I don’t want to lose track of growing because, I feel like no matter how “cool” something is, if the product suffers, then nothing else works. As long as the product stays consistent—and that’s what I’ve been doing for over 10 years now—everything else sort of falls into place.
What’s interesting and fun for me now is moving into streetwear and high fashion.
A lot of artists ask me to do custom strains, but the thing is, making a strain is not like doing a collab or doing a jacket or making shoes. It takes a long time. A year, year and a half. Everybody wants a strain. But when it really gets down to the business, the trade-off is pretty immeasurable. Obviously culture and hype, but if people go into dispensaries because they heard about it, and it’s not available on the shelf, then what do you get out of it? That’s the business behind creating a business. Having partners, bringing on investors—to me, that’s just as important as the people who are talking about it and marketing it.
But being in the circles of high fashion and streetwear—that’s fun. It’s not really where I’m from, but I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I don’t feel like I’m an outsider. People are excited to work with me. I just come in and say, “Hey guys, what do you think?“ I have a really open-minded attitude, and I think people like that I want the people I work with to be able to be who they are and be creative.
My dad’s family has been in the same area of Mexico for generations. They’re indigenous—they were there literally before it was Mexico. So, about four years ago, I did a partnership, a brand called Chief, with the Pomo Indian tribe in Mendocino. I met the chairman of their tribe, and we developed a good friendship. My business partners and I started growing on the land out there. In the beginning, we weren’t even sure they were going to be able to get licensed. It was an uphill battle, but it was something I really believed in, and I wanted it for them, economically. The potential of what it could mean really excited me.
We had issues dealing with the sheriff, dealing with the state, dealing with the tribe having to get recognized. It was a lot of work politically, as well, to get the language included in the state laws, which we did. Now it’s just a waiting game. We are licensed, and it’s a victory for us because it wasn’t something we were just given; it was something we believed in. Chief is going to be a growing brand, and not just in the native community. It’s something that we can build together.
We haven’t really been able to market it or talk about it, because it’s still very old school with them. You can’t bring in cameras. It’s still like that. When we harvest, they come and do chants. There are some really cool things that I wanted to incorporate, but I also respect how, to them, it’s sort of selling out if you take video of their culture and you market it. My conversations with them now are like, “Listen. There’s something very special about the Native American people, and it’s up to us to tell that story. If you leave it up to other people, then it’s their story. If we want to own that, then let’s start telling the story we want to tell together.”
It doesn’t mean you have to sell out, but let’s talk more. Let’s talk about how you feel. What’s going on? People want to know. What are your struggles? When you listen to how they feel . . . they know the history. I think creating a business with them and fostering economic growth within their communities is my way of trying to give a little bit back of what’s been taken. To economically and spiritually be a true friend to the leaders, and being someone that they can count on in this business of crooks and really shady business people. I never imagined Sherbinskis growing into what it has, but I’ve embraced it now. I have fun with it. People show me a lot of love and support. I really feel like it’s a reflection of what I’ve given, and now I can be like, “Hey, I’m getting to be that older guy, but remember me? Remember all the work I put in? Love you.” And they give that back to me, tenfold.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Mario Guzman photographed by Adrian Octavius Walker at his home in San Francisco. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.