Yung LB, an emcee and original member of the Cookies growing crew.

When rapper Yung LB debuted a new strain at Santa Rosa’s influential Emerald Cup competition in 2017, he knew he had something special.

As an original member of the vaunted Cookies growing crew, his endorsement of fresh flower was also not made lightly. Cookies — a group of innovative local cultivators who gained international fame when their namesake strain took the market by storm a decade ago — is a name long associated with incredible cannabis.

Now, three years later, the strain LB developed (along with fellow “Cookies Boyz” Nick and Ray) is being hailed as the top cannabis choice of 2020. More specifically, Leafly has declared Runtz to be 2020’s Strain of the Year.

Regarded by many as the industry’s most reliable source for accurate, up-to-date information on thousands of unique cannabis strains, Leafly’s seal of approval on a particular varietal is akin to Rolling Stone declaring a record to be the year’s top album.

According to David Downs, Leafly’s California Bureau Chief (and one of the people responsible for ultimately determining which strain takes top honors each year), though Runtz is his pick for 2020’s top strain across the nation, there are some serious Bay Area roots to acknowledge.

“The formula that Runtz followed to succeed was first pioneered in San Francisco with Cookies at the Hemp Center and Berner in the 2000s,” Downs tells SF Weekly. “These hip-hop entertainers are master marketers and social media natives and we all need to be watching how they operate and learn from it.”

The blueprint established by Bay Area rapper, entrepreneur and Cookies lifestyle brand co-founder Berner is certainly one many are currently looking to follow. With few traditional marketing avenues available to cannabis companies, the power of promoting one’s flower through their music, merchandise etc. has established Cookies as a global clothing powerhouse that doubles as free promotion for their related cannabis products.

For as long as trademarks and other intellectual property protections remain unavailable to the cannabis industry, promoting pot through rap songs and hoodies is becoming a popular alternative option.

To that end, Leafly’s research on Runtz revealed that over 100 rap songs with lyrics listed on included a direct name-check of the strain.

Despite this impressive variation on “grassroots” marketing, the allure of Runtz as a rapper-approved strain would mean little if the flower itself wasn’t also something special.

Fortunately, this strain — believed to be a cross between Gelato (Leafly’s 2018 Strain of the Year) and Zkittlez (itself a hybrid of Sherbert and Thin Mint GSC) — is a delectable blend of notable effects, sumptuous aromas, and stunning trichomes.

That doesn’t mean Runtz didn’t have any competition.

Dr. Nick Jikomes, Director of Science & Innovation for Leafly, tells SF Weekly that another strain, Ice Cream Cake, ranked “neck-and-neck” with Runtz. He also noted that all of the highest-placing strains for this year shared a similar chemistry as well.

“They are all high-THC strains which tend to have a terpene profile dominated by beta-caryophyllene and limonene,” Jikomes explains. “Where Runtz stands out is that it also tends to have a solid amount of linalool, which is a floral terpene believed to contribute to relaxation. Pink Runtz, in particular, has a more exotic terpene profile, giving it a sweet, fruity, funky aroma.”

Beyond the numbers Jikomes crunched, he also found an informal survey yielded similar results.

“I have Pink Runtz at home,” he says, “and after just opening the bag at home, I was accused of smoking in the house!” 

That smell, a mix of berries, cream, and pungent earth, is complemented by the coloring one can expect to find with Runtz, which varies from a bright pink to a deeper purple-black depending on harvest season. On top of that, as Jikomes highlights, Runtz is a potent strain of flower, which fits on trend with larger buying habits that show cannabis consumers consistently opting for the products packed with the most THC.

In addition to rightfully feting Runtz and its creators, Downs also took a moment to underscore that the industry is at risk of losing future releases of this caliber if San Francisco officials — and, ultimately, their peers at the state level — refuse to revise certain regulations concerning the legal cannabis market.

“One big challenge,” Downs says, “is holding onto these breeders and growers as the cost of doing business in San Francisco continues to rise without any end in sight, whether it be taxes or regulations around workers or licensing.”

And, as Downs points out, it isn’t as though cultivators don’t have other options to consider if California can’t better accommodate them.

“Places like Oregon and Michigan and Colorado are coming up on us,” he adds. “They’re scrappy and hungry, with better business climates, while the Bay’s leaders are complacent.”

Zack Ruskin’s weekly column, Pacific Highs, covers cannabis. Twitter: @zackruskin