“Herb is the healing of the nation,” Bob Marley famously said about ganja. “When you smoke herb, you reveal yourself.”
Wracked with cancer, the reggae legend passed away 36 years ago. But his vibrant music lives on, along with his love of the sacred herb.
On Nov. 18, 2014, the Marley family announced that they had signed a 30-year exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with Privateer Holdings, the cannabis investment firm based in Seattle, to launch a line of marijuana products under the Marley Natural brand.
Last year, on Feb. 6, Marley’s birthday, they held a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills to promote Marley Natural flower strains, concentrates, vaporizer cartridge pens, lotions and paraphernalia. The products are currently available in California dispensaries, with plans to move into Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Canada this year.
All the ganja is grown outdoors. “In California, we hand-select cannabis from local, experienced farmers committed to sustainable growing methods,” Marley Natural’s Communications Director Berrin Noorata tells Freedom Leaf. “Many of the farmers we work with are located in Northern California. All of our cannabis is grown by the power of the sun, without harmful chemicals or pesticides. We will be looking at greenhouse grow plans when and where necessary, such as in Canada, as we expand to other markets.”
Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy sees Marley Natural as a perfect fit. “For us, the appeal of Bob Marley is that each new generation seems to discover and identify with his voice and music,” he says. “That was hugely important to us; his voice around peace, unity and social justice really matched our own thoughts on the need to end prohibition, and harms caused by prohibition. It’s more than just about cannabis—it’s about building a responsible brand.”
The deal was incubated in 2013, when Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which represents the Marley family, reached out to Privateer after reading an article about the company. Following their first meeting with CAA, Kennedy was introduced to Marley’s wife, singer Rita Marley, and their daughter Cedella, who heads up both Marley Natural and Tuff Gong International, the Marleys’ record company.
“We had four conversations,” Kennedy recalls, “two on the phone and two in person over a two-month period. That started an additional 15 months or so of conversations that took place in Seattle, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Kingston. “We were excited,” he says. “Brands are expensive and take a long time to build. And we felt like we could jump 10 years ahead of everyone else by creating a brand around Bob Marley. We couldn’t think of another cultural icon that was more closely associated with cannabis than Bob Marley. That was a huge part of the appeal. It took 1,000 hours of my time
over the course of two years to finalize the terms of the deal.”
They decided to break the news on The Today Show. “It was thrilling to see such mainstream coverage,” Kennedy says. “We had more than 2,000 unique stories about it in 196 countries. There were 2.3 billion media impressions about that story! This spoke to Bob’s global reach, which is an essential reason why we didn’t do a deal with other celebrities who had approached us who were more narrowly focused on the U.S. We’ve been approached by nearly every celebrity interested in creating their own brands, but those opportunities aren’t very interesting to us. We feel like we have the one we wanted.”
In addition to Marley Natural, several family members have their own marijuana businesses. Eldest son Ziggy has a line of hemp seed and coconut oil products, Ziggy Marley Organics, and fellow reggae star Damian recently invested in the Denver pot shop Stony Hill, and made an even bigger splash in October when it was announced that he had partnered with Ocean Grown Extracts on a $4.1 million deal to purchase a 77,000-square-foot prison in Coalinga, Calif. and convert it into a cultivation facility.
“Many people sacrificed so much for the herb over the years who got locked up,” Damian Marley told Billboard. “If this helps people and it’s used for medicinal purposes and inspires people, it’s a success.”
His manager, Dan Dalton, added: “Cannabis is something that’s around Damian every day with his friends, family and his Rastafarian faith. We’ve watched people who have sacrificed their lives for it. That injustice has motivated us to be advocates, knowing that there are healing properties in cannabis.”
Cedella Marley echoes those sentiments in a statement provided exclusively to FL: “Herb for Daddy was a spiritual thing. It made him feel connected to God and the Earth. He believed it was a sacramental thing. He believed it had to be enjoyed responsibly. There are times when you can see he would just meditate and start to write his music. I think he believed it inspired him. My mother would tell me stories about him waking up in the morning, having a spliff and thanking Jah for the beautiful day, drinking his cocoa tea and going for a two-mile run on the beach.
“Daddy viewed the herb as something spiritual that could awaken our well-being, deepen our reflection, connect us to nature and liberate our creativity.”
With a company office in New York and operations in California, the family’s roots in Jamaica, where cannabis was decriminalized in 2015, are not forgotten. “The Marley Natural team has spent a lot of time in Jamaica with the cannabis-growing community,” Noorata explains. “It’s extremely important to work with Jamaican farmers to bring Marley Natural flowers and oil to the island. The regulatory framework for medical cannabis in Jamaica is still being developed. As soon as the system gets up and running, we intend to explore how to bring our brand to the market in a way that respects and contributes positively to Jamaica’s ganja growers.”
One Marley Natural strain, Blue Mountain Fire, originates in Jamaica, but “since it’s not legal to move cannabis seeds and plants across international borders, we have to source strains locally,” Noorata says.
The Marley family contributes to Jamaican society through Rise Up, Marley Natural’s social-impact initiative created to give back to both Jamaica and communities outside of Jamaica that have been harmed by cannabis prohibition. In Jamaica, Rise Up is funding programs operated by three organizations focused on supporting communities across the island: Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, Farm Up Jamaica and Golden Valley Farmer’s Group.
“Our intent is to continue to invest in projects that are helping entrepreneurial people strive toward a better future in Jamaica, and elsewhere around the world, as our company grows,” Noorata adds.
And growing it is. “We hope that Marley Natural can help make the world a better place, by using Daddy’s voice to help people realize the many benefits of cannabis for the mind, the body and the spirit,” Cedella Marley says. “We would like to see Marley Natural become one of the world’s leading premium cannabis brands, deeply rooted in Daddy’s life and legacy. And we want this brand to be something that does good. I think he would be very proud of what we are doing with Marley Natural, and happy to see this day.”
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