Bob Marley-Branded Pot Is Here, but Would He Be Fuming?

The latest capitalist product named after a rebellious icon

On the cover of 1973's Catch a Fire album, there's a photo of Bob Marley that's become an icon for the transcendent powers of smoking marijuana. The reggae master squints into the camera, a joint the size of a stovepipe sagging from his lips. Marley was the world's most famous proponent of smoking the sacred Rastafarian herb, so it was probably just a matter of time before his family placed his name on a brand of cannabis products.

The brand, called Marley Natural, will reportedly be available late next year and consist of cannabis-infused lotions, creams, accessories and—perhaps most appropriately—"fine cannabis," or what the website terms "some of Bob's Jamaican favorites."

Not surprisingly, the announcement of the brand’s debut has caused a stir both in and outside the partaking community. (“Excited about this brand and products,” tweeted Successful Stoners.)

Less certain is what Marley—who died in 1981, well before the cash-soaked age of celebrity branding and increasingly legal pot—would have thought of this latest venture. Marley’s daughter Cedella told the BBC her father would have loved it. “My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb,” she said.

Well, maybe. Marley Natural is being funded by Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based venture firm whose executives hail from sleek corporate megaliths such as Silicon Valley Bank, Cisco Systems and Wells Fargo. By most accounts, Marley himself was far closer to revolutionary socialism than venture capitalism.

"Bob Marley was a lot of things to a lot of people, but a corporate stooge, he was not," one marijuana blogger complained this week. "With dollars in their heart and a cynical marketing move they are trying to combine the love of greed with the loving life example that was Bob Marley. … I don't know what Bob would think of his name being used by a corporate investment fund, but it at the very least goes against his ideals of power to the people."

Marley’s heirs—who have squabbled over licensing in the past—have slapped his name and likeness on a wide and occasionally bizarre range of products: T-shirts, backpacks, headphones, watches, a “One Love Doll” and in 2012 Marley’s Mellow Mood drink, which reportedly sickened a bunch of New Jersey school kids. The value of Marley's estate has recently been pegged at $130 million, money that comes partly from the still-brisk sales of the singer's 1984 Legend album, but also through the sale of licensed merchandise.

At least cannabis is a product Marley himself actually used—even though his “Jamaican” pot will be cultivated in Washington state (where anyone over 21 can possess an ounce of weed). Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy said in a statement that the new venture “was just a natural fit between Bob Marley and this product,” and it’s hard to argue the essence of that point. “If you were to look for the most famous human being who ever walked the face of the earth related to cannabis,” he added, “it would be Bob Marley."


@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.