Nearly thirty years ago, Dina Browner was only 15 when she tried pot for the first time. Make that, peer pressured to try pot for the first time by—wait for it—Snoop Dogg. Cut to present day and Browner who’s famously known as Dr. Dina, is the co-owner of the longest running cannabis dispensary south of San Francisco, the founder of a non-profit organization Freedom Grow that helps people who have been imprisoned for non-violent cannabis crimes, a host of the podcast “Cannabis Confidential,” and the cannabis consultant to the Netflix show Disjointed, starring Kathy Bates.
She’s been referred to as the “pot doc to the stars,” the “queen of weed,” and the “Mona Lisa of Mary Jane.” And in a cool full circle moment, how she got her start as the cannabis connoisseur that she is today, complete with an impressive roster of A-list clients, can be credited to Snoop Dogg.
But she can explain her life story better than we can. We got her on the phone to chat about how she got her moniker (spoiler: it’s Snoop), how she met Snoop, how she, much to her chagrin, became the inspiration for the character Nancy Botwin on Jenji Kohan’s hit TV show Weeds, and why Netflix’s Disjointed is so important in the process of normalizing cannabis.
First, are you a real doctor?
I’m not a doctor. I am not board certified. Well, I should say, I am board certified by Snoop Dogg, that’s who gave me the nickname. That’s totally the same thing as going to medical school [laughs].
How did you and Snoop Dogg meet?
I met him when I was 15. He forced me to smoke pot when I was 15, which was the first time I ever smoked pot, and it was so I didn’t tattle to my friend’s mom that we were smoking. Snoop was there because my friend’s dad was his criminal attorney—it was during his murder trial. Years and years later, in 2002, I opened the very first doctor’s office in Southern California that recommended medical cannabis instead of other pills and we openly advertised that we were a medical cannabis doctor’s office. And when I first started doing it, I laughed to myself, ‘I’m making people legal—I should run into Snoop again.’ About a few days later, a good friend of mine came in who just so happened to be renting space to Snoop Dogg in his studio and an hour later I was at Snoop’s studio with the doctor getting him legal, and that’s where the nickname came from.
Did you ever think you would carve out a career for yourself?
Never. I honestly thought that we had six good months before we got shut down. I knew cannabis wasn’t going to be outlawed for being bad for you, but I also felt the government was going to come and shut us down, and this was my window of opportunity to get involved. That was a long time ago.
How did you decide to open a dispensary?
Every day patients would come in and get their doctor’s note (from the real doctor that I worked with), and ask, ‘Hey, where do we get our weed from?’ And I would go, ‘Maybe if you went down to the park, stood on the corner, waited around, someone will come up to you.’ Well, that’s not a good option, so I went to a friend of mine and say, ‘Hey let’s open up a dispensary together,’ and we did in 2004, the Alternative Herbal Health Services. The two of us we separated ways, but I stayed in the industry.
What did your parents think?
I didn’t tell them. I was terrified. In the beginning, I told them I worked for alternative medicine doctor, and my mom was like, what kind of doctor are you working for? It was years later when I broke it down and explained how I’m helping people and they were really scared. They love that I was helping people but they were scared of the federal laws. All I could do was reassure them that I was following the law of the state, and let’s hope the state protects me. From there, it’s been a wild ride of watching the laws change and seeing it go from a black market to a gray market to now seeing the sun shining down on us. It’s unreal.
How did Disjointed come about?
I was first approached by Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum. I went and met with them and explained that “Weeds” really ripped off my life. They tried to play it off like they didn’t, but they did—the names in the credits were my patients who I had hung out with and shared intimate stories with. How much of it was really coincidental? I was also upset because I felt like I was being portrayed in a negative light—the character was selling weed to kids, there was the cartel, and a lot of fishy stuff that I don’t think is appropriate or has a place in the industry. That’s why, when they came to me, it was so important when they said, We want to respect the plant, respect the industry, and respect the people in the industry. We want a show they’re going to love and find funny, even if we’re poking fun at them.
And Disjointed has made cannabis mainstream.
I don’t think cannabis has ever been seen as mainstream as this Netflix show has made it. It’s available in 100 million households across the world. It’s translated into different languages, and it’s letting people peer into this world of cannabis dispensary. And yes, there are a lot of stereotypical stoners and there are a lot of stereotypical stoner jokes. Why? Because it’s a stereotypical stoner show. But we also break the stereotypes too, and I think a lot of people when they get past the first four episodes (because it takes a lot to set up the story because there are a lot of characters), it becomes really powerful, and I’m very proud of it.
Let’s talk about Kathy Bates’s character.
Kathy’s character is a little closer to a woman I know—her name is Stephanie Landa and I consider Stephanie to be my fairy potmother and we have a non-profit together: FreedomGrow.org, where we raise money for people who are spending their life in prison for pot, so they can call their families, get food, and fight for clemency to get them out. No one deserves life sentences for cannabis possession, but they get them all around the world, unfortunately.
How does the show tackle issues in the cannabis world?
There are a lot of old hippies out there, the ones who were the backbone of the movement that got us to where we are now and we wanted to give homage to those people, but at the same there’s a struggle between the older generation and the newer generation. In the show, Ruth [Kathy Bates’s character] has a son named Travis, who happens to be half black, and he wants to turn it into a business and he sees money, while she sees it as a safe haven to help people. So there’s a struggle that’s happening right now in California with these people who have dispensaries, who have been running the way they want to all these years, and they’re about to be shaken as of January 1st because regulations are changing.
The one aspect of the show I’m most proud of is the way we show the security guard who has PTSD for being in the war. It’s special to watch, through the 10 episodes, this guy trying to heal himself. We have a lot of army vets and when we get to them, they’re missing limbs, they’ve given up, they’ve become alcoholics. But there’s something about cannabis that has a way of calming the inner demon and maybe unlocking something in the mind that’s going to allow them to relax and see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If we can reach one person who’s a vet who didn’t want to try cannabis, or reach people who know someone like that, then we win.
It’s interesting that there’s still a stigma attached to cannabis.
When I watch the Oscars, the Grammys and I see the people who are winning, I’m like, ‘Oh that’s my patient, that’s my patient, that’s my patient.’ It’s really interesting that all the people we’re idolizing are all cannabis users—most of them are scared to say so. Cannabis has done something to inspire the art/entertainment culture. It’s inspired music, art, and entertainment to such an amazing point, and we just don’t see it. And I like to think it inspires some of the writers on Disjointed as well.
What do you think the music and entertainment industries would be like today without cannabis?
I think the entertainment/music industry have always gone hand in hand with cannabis, so that would be hard to imagine, although I guess it would be a boring world without it. In reality, it’s the entertainers who are the new faces of branded cannabis products and companies in the new cannabis world and they have the power to get their message to so many around the world, like Snoop, Wiz, 2Chainz, Tommy Chong, The Marley Family, Whoopi Goldberg, 311, Jimmy Hendrix Estate, and more.
Who are your celebrity clients?
2Chainz is a good friend of mine and a regular client. Some of them are open with me mentioning them: Timbaland, Charlie Hunnam, the whole cast of Sons of Anarchy for the most part—they’re like my brothers.
How did that happen?
I got Snoop’s first doctor’s note, and when he started smoking everywhere and he wasn’t getting arrested anymore, people would ask him, ‘Hey how do you do that?’ He’d say, ‘Call Dr. Dina.’ I would never introduce myself as Dr. Dina, but if my phone rang and someone said, ‘Hi, is this Dr Dina?” I would know this person got my number from Snoop Dogg. That’s how it was for the first year or two. And before you know it, everyone and their mother, everyone who knew Snoop, which was everyone, would come into the store. It became a game where we could say a famous person’s name and somehow they would walk into the door within 24
What do they ask you for?
It’s funny, everyone just knows that I know what they want. It’s never, ‘What do you have?’ It’s, ‘You know what I want.’ I do know what they want. Everyone is different. It’s a gift I think to be able to match certain personalities with certain strains, and also to figure out what people like. Some people want to be creative, and some people want to be obliterated. Puffy would say, I want a certain type of weed for before a meeting, and I want a type of weed for when I’m in the studio writing. People get very specific as to how creative they want to get, how sleepy they want to get. We try to help them out with that. You have to know your weed.
How many strains do you have?
We have over 88 on the shelf and they range in price from $20 for an eighth to $65 for an eighth.
Do you grow your weed?
We’re the only licensed dispensary to have an on-site grow in the city of West Hollywood, so we have a very small grow area. People say, ‘Oh, you grow a lot of weed.’ And I’m like, ‘This is not enough to keep Snoop high for a year. It’s not enough weed.’ We always find amazing growers from all over and we add to our collection.
The way you normalize weed—is that your hope for the future?
Absolutely—I think it should be normalized. “Disjointed” has upset a lot of activists, but it’s embraced by the stoners. They don’t realize it’s a satire and they don’t realize the importance of normalizing cannabis in a way we’re making fun of sitcoms. You’ve probably noticed our fake commercials. People are upset by it, but we’re trying, for 30 minutes, to live in a world where weed has always been legal, has always been accepted. It’s sparking dialogue across generations, and that’s such a win for me.