“Excuse me while I light my spliff, good God I gotta take a lift,” sang Bob Marley on “Easy Skanking” from his 1978 album Kaya -- an oft-used slang for marijuana. Today, that spliff could be legally smoked in several American states and, as of today, it may come bearing the premium brand of the late reggae icon. Marley Natural -- developed by the Marley Estate in partnership with Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, the first private equity company dedicated to marijuana related investments -- is the line of much-anticipated cannabis strains from the world's most well-known reggae artist.
“If my father was here physically, he would be up front advocating for this plant, so we are very proud to put our Marley Natural brand out there,” Stephen Marley, the second-oldest son of Bob and Rita Marley, tells Billboard not long after sampling Marley Natural herb for the first time. Stephen Marley will be jamming at the Bob Marley Birthday Celebration/Marley Natural launch party, scheduled for Feb. 6 at a private Hollywood residence. Also on the lineup, Billboard has exclusively learned, will be sing-jay Protoje, veteran dancehall deejay Spragga Benz, versatile deejay/rapper Shinehead, alongside DJs Kitty Cash, Jillionaire of Major Lazer and Jamaican selector Yaardcore.
Marley Natural flowers and oils will be offered in four strains, each with a hue adapted from the colors of the Ethiopian flag, the birthplace of Rastafarianism; Marley Green, a hybrid and suggested for novice herb users; Marley Gold; Marley Red; and the THC-concentrated Marley Black, recommended for ganja connoisseurs. “Rastas were chastised and imprisoned for this plant so as a Rasta youth, learning of that journey, it is a victory to see where we are today, to have the opportunity to not only smoke it but learn about its different components and uses,” Stephen Marley notes.
"Our team has visited hundreds of farms around the world, learning all about growing processes and different strains, trying to find the best quality cannabis there is,” explains Marley Natural general manager Tahira Rehmatullah. Based on current policies, marijuana can only be distributed in the state where it is grown. Marley Natural is working with several farmers in Northern California’s Humboldt County and Emerald Triangle regions to supply that state’s dispensaries. “Our goal is to work with all local farmers in every jurisdiction where we are offering cannabis,” adds Rehmatullah.
Representatives from Marley Natural have held extensive discussions in Jamaica with Rastafarian elders, government officials, ganja farmers and researchers, with the intent of facilitating the production of Marley Natural cannabis, grown in Jamaica, for international export, in accordance with various regulatory regimes. “We wanted to launch our brand in Jamaica but we couldn’t; they’ve legalized cannabis for medical purposes but haven’t yet implemented the regulatory program,” acknowledges Zack Hutson, director of public relations, Privateer Holdings Inc. “We want Jamaica to get to a point where they can develop Marley Natural into something that is their own,” adds Tahira Rehmatullah. “Jamaica hasn’t had the opportunity yet but as they move forward with their legislation, we can move forward with them.”
The Marley Natural line also includes smoking, storage and preparation accessories made from sustainably grown American Black Walnut wood and heat resistant hand-blown glass settings -- even various body care products including lotion, soap and lip balm, each blending hemp seed oil extracted from the cannabis plant with Jamaican botanicals such as ginger and lemongrass.
As a means of assisting individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by prohibitive marijuana laws, as well as others in need, Marley Natural has created Rise Up, a philanthropic initiative inspired by Bob Marley’s renowned generosity. They’ve partnered with GlobalGiving, a non-profit organization that provides a worldwide funding platform for locally based charitable projects.
While Jamaican reggae has led the charge for ganja’s legalization, the plant, nonetheless, remains illegal in the music’s birthplace -- though, on Bob Marley’s 70th birthday (Feb. 6, 2015) as an amendment to the island’s Dangerous Drugs Act, the Jamaican government decriminalized personal possession of 2 oz or less of ganja, now only punishable by a $5.00 fine. Further revisions to that law currently permit each Jamaican household to grow a maximum of five plants and adult Rastafarians can now freely use marijuana for sacramental purposes.
The Marley Estate, run by Bob and Rita Marley’s oldest daughter, Cedella, have licensed Bob’s name and image for several successful business ventures including Marley Coffee and House of Marley, which sells eco-friendly headphones and audio accessories. The estate earned $21 million last year, with Bob at No. 4 on Forbes’ annual list of top-earning deceased celebrities. The estate has entered into a 30-year partnership with Privateer Holdings and they’ve overseen the development of each of the Marley Natural products. “Bob’s family educated us about Bob’s relationship with herb, he felt it was a gift from God that could help people to heal, reflect, find themselves so all of the Marley Natural products are appropriate for recreational and medical markets,” explains Zack Hutson, director of public relations, Privateer Holdings Inc.
The brand will be available for introductory purchases at three medical marijuana dispensaries in the Los Angeles area -- Buds & Roses, Green Goddess and LAPCG -- on Feb. 6, a date that would have been Marley’s 71st birthday.
Dispensaries across California, where recreational marijuana is not yet legalized, will carry Marley Natural cannabis in the coming weeks. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where recreational use is legal, are the next intended markets, followed by Nevada; medical marijuana is legal there and recreational usage carries reduced penalties for possession and distribution compared to other U.S. states. Targeted expansions into Canada and Jamaica are possibilities for 2017 as those nations work through their regulatory laws.
Ras Iyah-V -- a longstanding crusader for legalization, president of Jamaica’s Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association and an organizer of Rastafari Rootzfest -- cautions against Jamaica being left being in the "green gold rush," urging widespread preparedness and cooperation to insure global viability for the island’s ganja industry. “What position are we in technologically, economically to compete with foreigners coming here with millions of U.S. dollars?” Ras Iyah V asked rhetorically in an interview with Billboard. “What will happen to people who have been involved in growing ganja, have gone to prison and paid the price to keep this industry alive? We want the government to mandate that financial institutions will somehow help grass roots farmers with technical training to meet the requirements of the ganja industry internationally.”