Born and raised in Pittsburg, a town in the Bay Area of Cali, Juan Quesada spent years as a pro MMA fighter, clocking wins during the 2013-2015 seasons. By 2015, Quesada was also successfully selling weed on the traditional market, offering the tasty exotic strains that he sourced from his hometown in the Bay.
Quesada formed the Backpack Boyz and teamed up with local rapper Don “Bully Wiz” Nelciano around 2015. They got a license for a medical marijuana delivery company just before recreational weed went legal in the state.
Currently the Backpack Boyz drop fresh flavors on an almost weekly basis, and they’ve become known for doing collaborations with independent artists and brands. Their latest collaboration is the brand Uncle Snoop, with Snoop Dogg himself. Now they have three dispensaries open in the state, including two in highly competitive Los Angeles.
Visit Hollyweed met up with the Backpack Boyz in Los Angeles to talk about how they got to this point in the game and where they’re headed next.
Fighting to Win
During the years he was professionally fighting, Juan Quesada realized that his homie’s cannabis syrup was helpful for recovery.
Separate from his professional fighting career, Quesada started selling weed but also got involved in some other less-than-legal work. Before long he was raided and arrested.
Although he got his case thrown out, it was too close for comfort.
“When I got done, I was like, you know, I don’t need this shit no more,” Quesada said.
As weed became decriminalized after 2011, it was much less dangerous a field to work in. Quesada saw a chance to go fully legal when he chatted it up with a dude who was licensed.
“I seen this fool selling weed. He had a Prop 215 delivery service. I didn’t believe it, I was like hell naw, it ain’t like that,” Quesada said.
Quesada went to a lawyer and jumped through a few hoops and was soon running a licensed delivery service.
“I went to this lawyer, a month later he’s giving me these papers that say I can sell weed legally. I was like what the fuck, I could really run around selling weed? This shit’s crazy, ” Quesada said.
For Quesda, it was a chance to build a real business. “I ran with it,” he said.
He saw a way to make money doing what he loved without the threat of getting into trouble.
“I was stoked. I’m not worried about going back to the joint no more,” Quesada said.
He decided to go all on in starting up his own business. He realized he had a chance at a more stable life.
“The main reason I sell weed and I’m so passionate about the weed outside of I love weed, is because I know I’m coming home,” Quesada said.
“When you involve guns and other shit with the weed, that’s a different story. Yeah, you’ll get in trouble,” Quesada said. “But we don’t be on no shit like that. We fuck with weed, and that’s our thing,” he said.
When it came time to choose a name for the brand, Quesada’s partner at the time suggested Backpack Boyz, “Cuz we always got our backpacks, and we dem boyz,” Quesada remembers his friend saying. He thought it was pretty catchy, kind of funny, and definitely true: Quesada’s entire lifestyle at the time meant being on the go, living out of his backpack.
“I would always be in the gym training, so I’d always have my backpack,” Quesada said. “I’d always have food to make weight for my fight, clothes, weed shit, everything I would need for my day, or for two or three days,” Quesada said. “That’s how we were always moving around,” he said.
Backpack Boyz made a name for themselves at first by being the go-to source for the hottest brands from all over the state.
“That’s what I tried to do at first, was get all the best weed and put it under one banner. Just be known for having the best weed around,” Quesada said of his early days with the brand.
Soon enough, they weren’t just selling other brands. Backpack Boyz became its own brand of weed.
Branding the Family
Horchata. Merzcato. Whipped Creme Dulce. Natillaz. Backpack Boyz strain names sound delicious and come in bright, cartoonish packaging that reminds you of sugary treats.
Quesada says that the branding of the strains is meant to make the weed inside a little more friendly.
“We go for something that everybody can relate to,” Quesada said. “It’s a lot of Spanish stuff because we are Spanish, so that’s us just going with what we know. You may not exactly understand, but if the words don’t catch you, the art will,” he said.
The bags aren’t their only marketing tool. They brand their dispensaries (red and black with murals of L.A. legends), their clothes, accessories (including backpacks), and themselves. They’re tatted up and always rocking Backpack Boyz merch, which they sell in almost as many varieties as their strains. Bully Wiz makes original, independently produced songs packaged in slick music videos and filled with Backpack Boyz references. They constantly update their social media with music and strain bag art and photos of their crew.
After consuming all their media online, entering a Backpack Boyz dispensary is an immersive experience.
Once the Backpack Boyz started marketing their own strains, Quesada worked with top growers who he had made connections with over his years of traveling, networking, and hustling. The brand now contracts with multiple choice growers to source their ever-expanding collection of flavors.
“We’ve got close to two thousand lights contracted throughout the state, from L.A. to Shasta County,” Quesada said.
He’s also quick to note that nothing that he’s done has been a solo effort, even if he himself has been at the center of the brand from the start.
“One thing led to another, and I met some good ass people along the way,” Quesada said.
The Backpack Boyz, he says, isn’t just one person. It’s a team.
“There’s a lot of us. There’s hella us. It’s a team-slash-family. That’s exactly what it is,” Quesada said.
Bully Wiz, in particular, is like a brother. “I ain’t gonna lie, I’m closer with this fool than a lot of people I’ve known my whole life,” Quesada said.
Born in the Bay, Taking Over L.A.
By 2019, Quesada was in talks to open a dispensary in Los Angeles. It was, amazingly, an entirely self-funded venture, with no investors. After it opened in 2020, occupying the former Hollyweed store (no relation to our publication), the Backpack Boyz dispensary was such an immediate success that it funded the opening of two more locations in 2021, one in Long Beach and one in San Diego.
Their success landed Backpack Boyz’s products in Snoop Dogg’s hands, and the weed icon was into it. So into it, that he went on to collab with the brand.
First Snoop dropped an exclusive strain with the Backpack Boyz timed with the release of Snoop’s 2021 album Algorithm. The strain was called Algorythm and dropped on the same day that the Backpack Boyz Long Beach dispensary opened, giving the store itself a tacit endorsement by the LBC legend.
A few months later, the brand dropped another strain, Uncle Snoop, which inaugurated the arrival of Snoop Dogg’s own weed brand of the same name. Uncle Snoop is officially a collab brand between Snoop and the Backpack Boyz, and they’re planning on expanding the flavors offered in the near future.
Quesada isn’t fazed by working with one of the most well-respected contemporary artists and one of the most influential voices in California weed.
For Quesada, it’s proof that you can’t ignore the Backpack Boyz.
“It’s kind of hard to not fuck with us,” he said.