Steve Duran, Founder & CEO, Cookies Pueblo
Cannabis really tastes differently at sea level than it does at fifty-seven hundred feet above sea level. Hence the conversation that is about to take place. I sat down with Steve Duran and his wife when I visited Denver at the beginning of June. What I discovered by smoking his herbs was a crystalline reminder that I need to get more of his marvelous herbs the next time that I’m in town. Sure, they tasted pretty bodacious at altitude, but bringing the same flowers down to sea level with all the humidity that New Jersey is famous for, brings an entirely deeper experience. This is crafted cannabis that speaks a different language than my usual menu of herbs. Impressive? I’m humbled. Because it’s my job to capture the nuances in cannabis. The taste of the place if you will. With indoor grown cannabis this art is much more intrinsic of an experience. The quality is just so good, it’s hard to say one variety supersedes another. But the pleasure I experienced when smoking Steve’s cannabis is that of the first time, I tried Colorado herbs. A mile up it’s just a different metaphor. The air does something to this proficiency, an art form not yet discovered by mere tokers. If you are spending your life at sea level, you owe it to yourself to taste herbs as ebullient as the ones produced by Cookies in Pueblo. And when you get home, open up that little package stuffed into your shirt pocket and smoke some more. Let me know what you think.
WB: Please tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Living now? Tell me about Cookies. Where did the name come from? How long have you enjoyed the plant?
Steve Duran: I was born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado, by a single parent in a low-income household with every possible barrier set up against me. I actually started smoking at a really young age and the stigma associated with it followed me into my teenage years. Once I hit adulthood, I was incarcerated for cannabis, which surprisingly led to me qualifying as a social equity licensee. It’s still pretty surreal to think about everything I went through and know I was able to come out of it with this type of cannabis license. I always hoped cannabis use would become less stigmatized, so it’s awesome to see legalization happening in my lifetime. I feel blessed to be able to publicly embrace the power of the plant and share what I’ve learned over the years with my community. That focus and drive is really what pushed me to open my first dispensary, Seven One Nine – now known as Colorado Kush – with my wife in our hometown.
It wasn’t until a few years down the road that we opened Cookies Pueblo and that came from partnering up with Berner. We wanted to expand our footprint and felt like Cookies was the perfect fit for us. It’s effortless when you work with people that feel your vibe and share similar personal and professional values. We opened our doors a little over a year ago, in April 2021, and have enjoyed every minute of it. The Cookies team just gets it, and we’re grateful they share our commitment to quality above all else. In addition to owning and operating Colorado Kush and Cookies Pueblo, my wife and I recently launched a cultivation line called Colorado Kush Co. on the retail side, which is sold exclusively at Cookies Pueblo, so that’s definitely been a major highlight for me.
WB: What are your six and twelve-month goals? What obstacles do you face? How do you anticipate removing those obstacles?
Steve Duran: I’d say my six and twelve-month goals are focusing on keeping my businesses afloat, driving foot traffic to the stores, and building brand awareness around Colorado Kush Co., all while keeping social equity at the heart of what my wife, Monique, and I do. Our ongoing goal is to just share the knowledge we’ve gained with others in similar situations in hopes of getting more minorities involved and increasing representation in cannabis.
Even with legalization, there are many challenges associated with the cannabis industry as a whole – especially for black and brown Americans. As you know, the war on drugs continues to disproportionately impact people of color, making it extremely difficult to overcome the economic and regulatory obstacles associated with entering the legal market. I look around and ask myself, “Why aren’t there more owners and executives that look like me?” That’s what we’re trying to change through education and service to our community. I want to make sure that everyone, despite their race, gender, or socioeconomic status has a fair place in this industry.
WB: Who are your mentors and why?
Steve Duran: There have been a lot of folks who’ve helped me out along the way and given me solid advice, but on a personal level, I’ll always have to show my mom some love. Watching her do whatever it took to raise me as a single parent really instilled the value of hard work in me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her love, support, and guidance.
Professionally, I have to give a shout-out to Berner. Seeing him turn Cookies into this international cannabis brand was inspiring – I knew I wanted to work with him and learn from his experience in the legal market. That level of insight and just knowing how the legal market works are priceless. We’ve both been in the industry for a minute so it’s motivating to see another Latino build this cannabis empire that’s still about the culture. We need to see more of it in the industry.
WB: When did you discover cannabis? How old were you? Why cannabis? What brought you to the plant?
Steve Duran: I was 12 years old when I smoked cannabis for the first time. Back then, you didn’t have all these reports on the medical benefits of it but everyone in my circle knew there was this holistic component to it. You can see how pills and hard drugs change people, but cannabis didn’t have the same impact. It was different, it actually helped people. It’s been a part of my life ever since. I’ve always used it to relieve stress and anxiety, boost my mood, and increase my appetite – and honestly, I just enjoy it. I truly believe this plant can elevate people’s quality of life by serving as a natural remedy to a variety of ailments. It’s the undeniable sense of community created by a mutual appreciation for the plant that’s kept me dedicated all these years.
WB: Do you cook? If so, what is your favorite thing to prepare? Favorite restaurant? Where?
Steve Duran: Yes, I love to cook! I grew up around my mom and grandma who were both amazing cooks so I got to taste some of the best homemade food in the world right at home. I would say my favorite thing to make is a pot of green chile cooked with Pueblo Chile of course. That’s my favorite meal to cook because of the smells and flavors that go into it (onion, garlic, chile, spices) – it’s always a reminder of home. When you walk in the house and there’s a pot of chile going there’s no other smell like it. I would take a pan of my mom’s red chile enchiladas, her Spanish rice, and this strawberry banana double-decker cake she makes over any restaurant that I’ve ever been to.
WB: What is your passion?
Steve Duran: My passion is centered around elevating people within the cannabis community. I really want to educate and empower people like me, who came from similar environments and circumstances. I want to be a driving force behind the effort to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal market. I want to help people transition from the illicit market to the legal market. Cannabis is a billion-dollar industry and yet thousands of people of color remain in prison for possession and/or consumption every day. I aspire to be an example of how legal cannabis can lift historically marginalized individuals and ultimately serve as a means of economic prosperity for a well-lived life. We’ve got a limited amount of time on Earth, and we need to make the most of it, regardless of what we’ve been through.