Meet the CEOs behind the dirty south’s dankest cannabis brands. For the ‘28 grams of game’ series, these Atlanta weed pioneers show Leafly how they went from underground legends to legal operators.
Although THC-rich cannabis is still prohibited in Georgia, many municipalities within the state have decriminalized possession of small amounts over the last decade, following Atlanta’s 2017 decision to allow less than an ounce to result in no more than a $75 ticket. With access to premium bud increasing across the Southeast, a handful of legacy brands have sprouted into public view, including GasHouse, a collaboration between Georgia natives Felix Murray and Kingston.
A fully-licensed retail market may not come to Georgia or neighboring states any time soon, but entrepreneurs like Murray and Kingston are securing a head start in the meantime. The pair met in 2014, and moved to Oregon a year later with the intention of getting a medical cultivation license.
In the years since, Murray and Kingston built GasHouse into a globally-known brand by securing licenses out of state and collaborating with West Coast companies in legal markets. That includes a crossover with Cookies, which helped GasHouse secure the Zooted storefront in Miami, plus multiple retail touch points in California, and a successful seed bank release this past Black Friday.
Another Atlanta brand, Real 1, has expanded on similar grounds, connecting with Joke’s Up to get licensed and distributed across California, including at the five-star Ice Kream dispensary in Studio City.
Meanwhile, more paths from legacy to legitimacy have been carved in Atlanta’s airwaves, by artists and owners like Yung Marley (Sharklato), Lil Baby (Wham!), and the late great Migos rapper TakeOff, who was working with GUMBO on a signature product before his life was tragically taken last month.
These brands and more are making use of Atlanta’s instrumental influence on popular culture, and cornering the many intersections between pop and pot that legalization makes profitable. For those who hope to follow their paths to legitimacy in the weed industry, we chopped up 28 grams of game from the reigning Kings of Atlanta cannabis, including GasHouse, Real 1, Sharklato, and more.
28 grams of game distills the journeys of cannabis operators who’ve transitioned from legacy to legal.
1. Plant quality seeds
The name GasHouse honors grower Kingston’s legendary house of genetics. Kingston perfected his formula growing in rural Georgia before linking with Murray, a key influencer in Atlanta’s music and nightlife scenes. Their relationship blossomed after Murray got Kingston’s product from a friend and was inspired to set up a fishing trip.
The two clicked and cooked up a recipe for legal success. By then, Washington and Colorado allowed legal cannabis for residents 21 and older. Since they knew it would be years before Georgia got with the program, the pair set out to buy 40 acres of land in rural Southern Oregon to test their skills in a legal market.
2. Don’t take no for an answer
The seller of the property they wanted was a white-bearded white man who later admitted to almost shutting the deal down because of deeply-held prejudices. But Kingston and the seller eventually bonded to the point that, “He cried on my shoulder,” Kingston told Forbes.
“He told me he was a bigot all his life and that I changed the way he perceived us… I told him I’m just trying to do this for my family, and I just told my situation,” Kingston said. “And he sold me his property.”
3. Trust yourself
Kingston and Murray said they didn’t use a lawyer to apply for a license. They chose to read the regulations and handle it themselves. Murray said in 2021, “We realized it was so new that lawyers didn’t even understand the rules and regulations yet. We felt that we could interpret them just as well as they could.”
GasHouse started in Oregon by growing medical cannabis in greenhouses. The new environment was a challenge, but Kingston’s experience and commitment to clean, pesticide-free growth kept him on the path to excellence. In 2015, they got an adult-use license, “and that’s when GasHouse Farms was really born,” Murray recalls.
4. Strive for excellence
Since their very first cannabis competitions, GasHouse has been grabbing awards. At their debut event, Dabathon Cup in 2016, Kingston didn’t even know competitions were a thing. That didn’t stop them from leaving that event with two awards. The instant success was mind-blowing for Kingston, who knew his work was good but not necessarily world class.
Murray built a solid reputation over the years while running one of Atlanta’s most popular nightclubs. Combining Murray’s network with the work Kingston put in as a master grower and underground operator, the pair became an unstoppable team with chemistry that took the West Coast by storm.
5. Claim your name
As soon as Kingston and Murray landed on the name GasHouse, they moved to lock the brand down legally. “Using [the] term ‘gas’ for weed originated in the South,” Murray told Leafly. “I’m from the OG era, OG Kush,” Murray continued. “That was like our favorite strain. So we refer to that as gas. Because when you open that bag, that’s what it smelled like—some type of fuel.”
Murray still remembers the night the GasHouse name was conceived: “Sitting at the table at my house, me, Kingston, and DJ Teflon, we were playing with different names. And at first it was: House of Gas. Because we said that’s all we’re gonna have in our stable is gas. And then we were like, no, GasHouse. And so it was born. I couldn’t believe (the name) was available. So I locked it down immediately while I was still sitting at that table.”
6. Blaze new trails
At the end of 2017, they left Oregon for Southern California. Murray and Kingston knew that California had 10 times the potential market, with nearly 40 million people to Oregon’s 4 million. And they soon took first place at 2018’s High Times NorCal Cannabis Cup, and then the 2019 Challis Cup.
The wins led to high-end pricing and helped land the brand in industry-leading California stores like Cookies. GasHouse has now released its best sellers at Cookies locations across Cali and the rest of the country, thanks to cultivation and licensing deals that stamp elite locally-grown crops with GasHouse’s brand and strain names.
7. Leave a legacy
“I’m smokin’ on that dope/And it got me on Pluto”
Lil Durk, “Gas & Mud”
With A-list rappers like Lil Durk and Lil Baby shouting out GasHouse’s staple stain, Pluto, for millions to hear, the sky appears to be the limit for Murray and Kingston’s high octane dream. Last week on Black Friday, GasHouse released its award-winning genetics through a historic seed drop with Cookies. The company’s owners see it as another way to leave a lasting mark on the industry.
8. Swim with the sharks
“Smoking Sharklato in a fishbowl wearing Prada”
Moneybagg Yo, “Shottas (Lala)”
Sharklato’s designer name appeal is no accident. Founder Yung Marley has been an independent rapper since 2015, collecting a wealth of experiences that he’s poured into making one of America’s most sought after brands.
Platinum artists like Moneybagg Yo and Jadakiss namedrop Sharklato on songs and socials as a status symbol, much like luxury goods from Prada or Rolls Royce. Stars also drop money bags on shark strains in real life, with Yo spending $1,000 for an ounce of the gassy exotic back in 2020.
Rappers Skooly and Lil Yachty have also shown Sharklato love over the years, and Grammy-nominated audio engineer J Rich even told One37pm during the pandemic: “My favorite weed to smoke while engineering is a strain called Sharklato. It’s the best weed out right now.”
9. Network organically
Before Sharklato was a brand name, Marley was well-known for providing exotic flavors around the city. “In Atlanta, I always was known for having the best cannabis,” Marley told Leafly during a summer session in producer Sonny Digital’s recording studio.
Digital is a multi-platinum artist who introduced Marley to Yung LB, the CEO of Runtz years ago. “Soon as I walked in, me and LB hit it off instantly,” Marley said, crediting LB with inspiring Sharklato’s early development. “He brought (the) idea of branding and marketing. He sparked that idea in my head.”
“My brother LB, gave me the legal game,” Marley told Leafly, remembering the time he spent sitting in on “billion-dollar meetings in California,” as LB built the Joke’s Up empire. Marley said he was “getting hip to being corporate,” and “soaking the game up,” while plotting his own attack on the industry.
10. Feed your soil
Marley was born in the heart of Atlanta as a proud Grady baby, meaning he took his first breaths in the city’s famous Grady hospital. He was raised in Grant Street’s Summerhill community and always finds ways to put Atlanta first as his brand continues to take off.
So far, Marley has used his early lane in the game to help other legacy operators get up and running. Along the way, he’s hired locals and collaborated with artists like Skooly, Young Nudy, and Lil Yachty on signature products that bring exotic to starving markets and help destigmatize the plant. In the process, Sharklato has become a hallmark of premium exotic from East Atlanta Village to the West End, inspiring countless imitators.
“I’m havin’ Sharklato mixed with Pie Hole, one-fifteen a zip”
Pooh Shiesty, “Neighbors”
11. Change the game
Marley said he got in a lot of trouble growing up. He started smoking at the end of sixth grade and got kicked out of every school he attended after that. But he eventually got a GED, and became an early pioneer of landing Cali-bred exotic in the Deep South.
“I was blessed because my cousin and them already had situations going on, so I just really took it to a whole ‘nother level,” he said. “My cousin Big Woody and them, they (were) already on exotics. But I’m the baby of the whole family, I just really elevated it.”
Marley is still protective of the legacy cannabis community’s longevity, noting that vultures from all industries are ready to swoop in and capitalize on legalization. “We’re the ones who really took risks for this,” Marley told Leafly, “So we really gotta stay consistent and look for the best deal. We are the streets, and we control everything for real. We gotta put ourselves in position and level up, and not just be put in the box,” Marley explained.
12. Bring the loud
When we linked with the big shark he was smoking brand new Sharklato genetics. “This is a new strain right here, Blue Flame,” Marley told us between tokes. The cultivar is named for Atlanta’s famous strip club, as well as its myrcene-tinted hue.
Quality Control engineer J Rich said he counts on Sharklato’s sedative qualities to help perform under the intense weight of working with Atlanta’s top artists. He explained last year that the brand’s genetics “help your creative intuition because you’re constantly under pressure to finish this, hurry up and record, finish this.” He said, “Artists move so fast… I’ll be like, ‘Damn, I didn’t even get enough time to make you sound good. You’re going to want this [session] bounced, get home, hear it and then blame me that it doesn’t sound good.”
13. Tap into your roots
Marley was raised by a Puerto Rican mother and Rastafarian stepfather who had slightly different views of the plant. “I came up in that Rasta culture young, like six, seven years old. I lived with him, and every month everybody would come together and smoke their joints. So I was brought up in the culture for real,” Marley told Leafly.
But Mommy Shark wasn’t as loose with the leaf. “Hell naw, Mama wasn’t going for that,” Marley said when asked if he ever smoked with his parents back then. “But over time, she saw I was so consistent with it, she eventually let it go,” he said.
Today, Marley’s Rasta roots are alive and well when he uses fronto-leaf to roll his thumb-thick blunts. A proper Rasta spliff traditionally contains a mix of cannabis and ground “fronto,” aka grabba leaves, which provide a tobacco-filled kick.
14. Plan for the future
As for the future of Sharklato, Marley said, “Five years from now, I just see the legal market taking over. We’re working on a deal I can’t really talk about yet. But we’ll have the biggest, and the only indoor outdoor cannabis mall out in LA, and we’re part of one of the biggest legal grows in the world,” he said, referring to Joke’s Up’s brand new plaza and SoCal grow op, which Leafly visited this summer to sample the goods.
Marley said one day, Sharklato will be a public company, with legal holdings in the deep South. “Legal weed is coming to the South,” Marley predicted, adding that Alabama, Florida, or the feds will likely legalize the plant before Georgia. With a national platform through Joke’s Up, and rap stars are adding clout to the brand on the regular, and Marley’s dreams of going public could come sooner rather than later.
15. Keep it realer
“Joke’s Up/It’s gotta be stamped on the package/This the Real 1 you know that I’m taxing”
Lil Baby, “As Real As It Gets”
Another Joke’s Up-backed Atlanta staple is Real 1, whose owner operates like a true Southern gentleman. The brand is curated by JR The Director, a popular music video director and legacy operator from Atlanta who works hard to protect his brand from the riff raff that often comes with the reefer business.
The name Real 1 and its accompanying catchphrase, “not the deal 1,” originate from Atlanta’s streets. The phrase is meant to separate exotic Zaza from lower-grade offerings.
In the absence of legal recreational dispensaries, most buyers in the Peach State are faced with two choices when purchasing weed in Atlanta: Exotic or OG. The Real 1 is aiming to elevate the city’s expectations and access with offerings like its staple strain, a hybrid packed with terpenes that shout to the rooftops and serve to deeply soothe the minds and bodies of consumers.
Real 1’s next release, N1, is a cross between its flagship strain and Nasuh (pronounced like NASA), another Joke’s Up hitter with a rep for taking users to space.
16. Protect the brand
According to Real 1’s CEO and founder, JR the Director, his team is always intentional with how the brand is represented. From curated music and merchandise offerings that expand awareness, to supremely-grown crops that are only available in limited supply, the attention to detail speaks volumes.
For now, Real 1’s powerful flower is available exclusively at the Joke’s Up Ice Kream dispensary and The Jokes Up Plaza in California. Despite the limited access, the brand finds ways to exist everywhere, including streaming and social media.
17. Cut your own cloth
Real 1’s new collab with the clothiers at Trap House House is the latest example of the brand’s guerilla marketing chops. Much like industry leader Cookies, The Real 1 team invests in top-of-the-line threads and tracks that build brand appeal with mass audiences just as much as with cannabis lovers.
“I promise it’s the Real 1/Nah, fasho, it ain’t the deal one.”
Rylo Rodriguez, “Real Project Babies”
JR applied the same strategy when releasing this summer’s Real 1 mixtape, which featured musical odes to the brand, including one from red-hot ATL rapper Rylo Rodriguez. “Real project baby at the top,” JR wrote under an Instagram photo in Dubai last year. He was born and raised in the Cascade area of Southwest Atlanta, but moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and has gone back and forth since.
18. Lead the way
The late Migos rapper TakeOff was developing cannabis products with GUMBO and Cookies when his life was tragically taken earlier this month. After his untimely passing, GUMBO CEO Luka Braziposted on Instagram to honor his friend and business partner, writing, “I love you my baby brother,” and, “fly high champ.”
TakeOff’s influence on music and cannabis continue to live through the people he left behind. Quavo, his fellow Migos member, already joined the legal game with Birkinz, a rare luxury cultivar that comes packaged in a Hermès Birkin-shaped purse bag and boasts maxed-out THC levels.
19. Swing for the fences
“Pack’s in/they done sent so much money for Wham! this shit on backorder”
Lil Baby ‘Vulture Island V2’
After a lifetime of selling the plant on Atlanta’s West side, Lil Baby took his first swing at the legal cannabis industry in 2022. He knocked it out of the park with Wham!, a Cookies collab that was available in California dispensaries this summer for a limited time only.
Wham! flew off the shelves thanks to its beautiful buds and brilliant marketing, including the Wham! ring set that Baby flossed across the music festival circuit this year.
As one of the most streamed artists in the country, Baby is taking advantage of his platform by name-dropping Wham!, and other Atlanta cannabis brands every chance he gets. In addition to collaborating with Sharklato for the Baby Shark strain drop, Baby has also shouted out Real 1 and GasHouse’s Pluto in his lyrics. As the CEO of The Holding Company, expect Baby to deliver more big time legal weed moves as one of the biggest champions of Atlanta’s legacy scene.
20. Don’t knock the hustlers
Sharklato’s Yung Marley may get frustrated with counterfeit suppliers who mimic his brand, but he doesn’t dwell on it. “You can’t knock the bootleggers,” he told Leafly.
“You can’t stop the counterfeit. They’re doing that shit worldwide.” Fake bags that imitate Sharklato and other elite brands sell like hotcakes online to local dealers who stuff them with inferior products. But Marley ultimately sees it all as a branding opportunity.
21. Expand your horizons
Sharklato is expanding its territory to include delta-8 vapes that can be sold in markets that still prohibit THC. They’re also exploring CBD and gummies through private white label deals. Marley’s advice to anyone following his lead: Just keep swimming like Nemo, or the big shark himself.
“Just keep going man. Don’t ever stop. Nobody said it was gonna be easy. It’s gonna get hard. But on some real shit, as soon as it gets hard and people want to quit, they don’t know that the door is right there. Soon as you finna quit, it is right there. So you can’t quit. You gotta just stay firm and believe in your vision. Just go with it.”
22. Raise the bar
Real 1’s strict quality control is most obvious in its strain genetics. “We’ve built our company around genetics,” JR said of Real 1’s goal for each release to be among the best on the market. They’re also offering Real 1 seeds, like GasHouse, Cookies, and other leaders in the legal field.
As for GasHouse, the future smells explosive. New drops like Zooted, plus new Pluto flavors, are primed for success. And their fresh venture into seeds should create even more massive growth for Murray and Kingston’s gas-powered empire.
23. Change the narrative
Atlanta native Curtis Snow isn’t letting the green rush pass him by, either. His cult classic film Snow On Tha Bluff was one of Netflix’s first original content purchases in 2012, and a film festival and New York Times darling.
Snow said he got the raw end of the entertainment industry, but he’s resolved to change his cards, focusing on weed’s potential to aid in the opioid epidemic. As a recovering user and provider of various illicit substances, Snow strongly believes legal cannabis can curb the widespread opioid and lean (codeine) addiction he sees among young adults in Atlanta, and nationwide.
“I started out selling weed way back then, so it’s only right things came all the way around and I can do it the legal way,” he told Leafly this fall. Snow’s first official cannabis venture came through a collab with Maine’s Gastrap brand in early 2022.
They dropped Snow On Tha Blunt jumbo pre-rolls as a limited release to honor his film’s 10th anniversary in the spotlight. The pre-rolls were coated with a thick layer of trichome crystals, and sold out immediately. The first run gave Snow the confidence to field more meetings with out-of-state companies, including a potential venture with legacy legend Freeway Rick Ross.
24. Stay down ‘til you come up
Two vets of Atlanta’s music scene have also gotten in on the legal game early. For years, Killer Mike and Waka Flocka Flame have used media and merchandise to carve an early entryway to the industry, despite the illegality of recreational weed.
In 2015, Flocka partnered with entrepreneur Jamar Brown to bring Dro Life clothing to the masses, and the brand continues to grow. Dro Life’s gear nods to legacy cannabis culture and streetwear with clean designs and limited releases that Waka frequently sports for his 3-million-plus Instagram followers.
Meanwhile, Atlanta activist and diplomat Killer Mike hosts cannabis-centric video content including the web series Tumbleweeds. Mike also dropped a signature cannabis strain through a partnership with Lemonnade and Cookies, alongside his Run The Jewels partner, EL-P. The pair’s Ooh La La strain was named after one of their songs, and ultimately proved they are serious about the legal game long-term.
25. Pass that GAS
Rap star 2 Chainz has already claimed his piece of the dirty South’s next big cash crop. His GAS brand uses octane ratings to help both newbies and connoisseurs choose from a wide offering of premium flower, pre-rolls, concentrates, topicals, and edibles that are available across California. Chainz also has his own Cali dispensary, Pineapple Express Hollywood, which debuts products from fellow rap stars like Lil Kim and Wiz Khalifa.
26. Share the crown
So who’s Atlanta’s King stoner? Depends who you ask. Murray told Leafly, “I would say DJ Teflon. I’m a stoner too, but he comes to my mind. And my son, he’s 24 years old. He goes hard. I passed that down to him. Like, he’s probably the only person outside of myself that I ask (for an) opinion on bud from. And he kind of hits it on the head. He even can smell (a strain) and tell you what’s in it.”
Yung Marley claims the title for himself, saying he’s been burning since middle school. “Back then, it was some stuff called Timmy D from TLE, Headband, the Kush, and the Irene. That’s what we called the fire, Irene. But back then, I didn’t know too many stoners besides my parents and their (Rastafarian) community.”
Real 1 had two nominees: “I would say Earthgang or JID,” Marley told Leafly, referring to hometown Grammy-favorites.
Atlanta’s rich legacy market seemingly won’t slow down anytime soon. So expect more collabs in out-of-state markets, innovative products that break the mold, and plenty of clout boosts courtesy of the city’s global reach.
Yung Marley explained to Leafly, “Marketing is really about who you know. Staying consistent, innovative. You gotta stay thinking about some new shit. Because you can’t be content… You gotta really put it in their face—But smart, though. Can’t just be everywhere loose. You gotta be strategic and just stay with new ideas, logos, merch, looks. Staying ahead of the curve. We can’t be cool with just this pack or this design—We gotta stay on their ass!”
28. Keep Georgia ganja on your mind
Atlanta is the epicenter of rap’s dominant trap sound, and the secret filming location of huge Hollywood and streaming productions. When you add agriculture to the equation, the entire state of Georgia is ripe to become one of the East Coast’s most promising cannabis markets when the law permits.
But even without a licensed game in sight, the city still carries the flame as the dank capital of the South, thanks in large part to legacy growers, distributors, and sellers who go above and beyond to keep the Peach State baked to perfection.