Bob Marley brought reggae mainstream. Now his family hopes he can also hawk premium marijuana to the masses.
The Marley family estate announced Tuesday the creation of Marley Natural, a global cannabis brand that will offer "heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed."
Marley Natural will also produce and market cannabis- and hemp-infused topicals such as sun-repair creams and lotions containing Jamaican botanicals, the family said in a statement.
The venture has received multimillion-dollar backing from Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based private equity firm focused on legal cannabis. Its portfolio includes Leafly.com, a leading consumer site that works much like Yelp, listing and reviewing cannabis dispensaries and marijuana strains.
"What appealed to us was the global reach of the Marley brand," said Brendan Kennedy, chief executive of Privateer. "He has 74 million Facebook fans around the world. There really aren't any global brands in this industry."
The legal cannabis industry in the U.S. is estimated to be worth over $2 billion, but no brand has emerged as a clear national leader.
Part of that is because the industry still operates with one foot in the shadows. Though legal cannabis is available in 23 states and Washington D.C., federal law still considers pot illegal. Creating a national distribution system for products is constrained by laws preventing cross-state transportation of cannabis.
Kennedy said Marley Natural plans to set up a network of local suppliers in states where marijuana is permitted. Colorado and Washington, the only two states that allow recreational use of cannabis, will be the primary focus of the brand in the beginning, he said.
"California is also towards the top of the list," Kennedy said.
The company is also looking at seed banks and cultivators to supply marijuana strains that the late reggae star used to smoke. Marley Natural has already identified several strains, such as Chocolope and Pineapple Skunk, as having the same genetics as the Jamaican strains Marley would have known.
The company aims to start offering its products by late 2015. Early mock-ups of product labels will include Marley's signature, Kennedy said.
Few pop culture figures are more synonymous with marijuana than Marley, who died of cancer at 36 in 1981.
Marley embraced marijuana as a converted Rastafarian and advocated legalization of the plant, which he called "herb."