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Bob Marley's kids want to be the Starbucks of legal weed

by Collin Friesen | The Frame

A sampling of Marley Natural products, on display at the launch party. Collin Friesen/KPCC

Way up in the Hollywood Hills, where the homes easily top $10 million, there’s a party going on in a rented mansion.  There’s a DJ, food and drink, and, oh yes, a couple of doctors to sign you up for your medical marijuana card. There's also, of course, a gifting suite.

Call it a kick-off, or maybe a coming out party, for Marley Natural, a line of all natural cannabis products including flower, oil, pipes and vapes. If you were wondering when the weed revolution would get here, wait no more.

“Legalization is a gift to us, and we have to do it the right way,” says Tahira Rehmatullah, general manager of Marley Natural, which is owned by a company called Privateer Holdings that’s all about branding cannabis for the mainstream. “We are at the top of the roller coaster.”

As far as what kind of brand that’ll be, think about over-priced lattes and you’ll be in the neighborhood.

 “To some extent, [we're] similar to Starbucks, a global brand," Rehmatullah says. "No matter where you go, you can be confident in the quality.”

Stephen Marley, Bob’s son and a multiple Grammy Award winner, says with more and more states legalizing cannabis, the family felt the time was right to lend its name to a line of products. He says “the herb” can be beneficial to the creative process, but may not be for everyone.

“Everyone is different," Marley says.  "For me, cannabis opens my consciousness, it takes me away. Like my father [said], it takes you away from the city life and puts you in an era where you can create.”

When asked how much he smokes every day, Marley — with a joint in his hand — laughs: “I have to check.”

The actual science on cannabis and creativity is mixed, perhaps because it’s tough to measure.  Some studies show a little weed doesn’t do much harm, a lot isn’t helpful, and no drug will make non-creative types any more creative.  

And there has been some pushback in the reggae world. Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Marley band, recently told a Jamaican newspaper that the Marley Brand spotlights their “selfish behavior.” Executives are quick to point out a portion of the proceeds are going to development work both in Jamaica and in the U.S., to help people here who have been shut out of the work force because of marijuana-related criminal records.

Stephen Marley, for one, isn’t about to get drawn into the controversy: “My father say, they got so much things to say right now, I’ll never forget no way… so I don’t listen to the gibberish, let me quote my father and say, My ears is deaf to those people."

Zack Huston is the Marley Natural PR guy. He points to the overwhelming sea change in public support for cannabis acceptance.

"If we look at public polls, the majority of Americans support legalizing and regulating cannabis like alcohol, like 56 to to 58 percent," Huston says. "And medical cannabis people support more than 80 percent. That amount — eight out of 10 Americans — don’t agree on anything, but they agree on this.”

The Marley family isn’t the only celebrity player in this $5 billion market. Willie Nelson is launching Willie’s Reserve. Melissa Etheridge and celebrity chef Bethany Frankel have talked about getting into the cannabis-infused wine business.

But when it comes to a dream cannabis spokesperson, it’s tough to imagine anyone could do better than the man who sang to the word: “I smoke two joints before I smoke two joints, and then I feel alright.”

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