Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Bob Marley about to become the Starbucks of cannabis?

The reggae superstar's family team up with a private equity firm to launch Marley Natural, selling his favourite strain of weed (where it's legal in the US), plus skin creams and accessories.

Marley, who died in 1981, is perhaps an obvious choice to launch the world's first international marijuana brand. Marley Natural says it will offer "premium cannabis products that honour the life and legacy of Bob Marley as well as his belief in the benefits of cannabis".

As well as offering cannabis-infused skin lotions and balm, the firm will also be selling what it describes as Bob's favourite Jamaican strains of heirloom cannabis in countries and US states where it is legal.

"My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb," said Cedella Marley, Bob's daughter and CEO of his record label, Tuff Gong International. 

"He viewed the herb as something spiritual that could awaken our well-being, deepen our reflection, connect us to nature and liberate our creativity. Marley Natural is an authentic way to honour his legacy by adding his voice to the conversation about cannabis and helping end the social harms caused by prohibition."

The firm says it expects to start shipping its products by the end of next year. To avoid the web of differing regulations across the US, it will grow cannabis in each area where it is legal, but sell it under one worldwide brand. At the moment differing amounts of cannabis are legal for recreational use in the US states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and the capital Washington DC. It is legal for medicinal use in many other states.

Privateer Holdings, the private equity firm backing the product, says it is committed to ending the social harms caused by the prohibition of marijuana. It recently raised $50m to plough into the increasingly profitable industry.

My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herbCedella Marley

Bob Marley's image has long been associated with marijuana, so it is perhaps surprising that it has taken this long to put his name to an official brand. The reggae superstar was a Rastafarian and believed smoking the herb was a sacrament sanctioned by the Bible. He reportedly smoked a pound of weed a week.

"My husband believed 'the herb' was a natural and positive part of life," said Rita Marley, Bob's widow, "and he felt it was important to the world. He looked forward to this day."

The singer's personal brand is hugely valuable and his family has licensed his image for a number of products including headphones, coffee and clothing. In 2011, it was estimated that the trade in unauthorised Marley merchandise could exceed $600m a year, in spite of the family's extensive legal efforts to protect his image.

As the appetite for legalisation in the US shows no signs of slowing, Marley Natural thinks it could one day become the Starbucks of marijuana. In a legal market in the US worth an estimated $2.5bn, where Bob leads, others will surely follow.

Sandeep Sharma

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