Bobmarley
Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley performing in the late 1970s.  - 

The family of Jamaican-born reggae star Bob Marley launched a first-of-its-kind global cannabis brand on Tuesday. Called Marley Natural, it will hit the market in late 2015 – and is aimed at both medical and adult-recreational use (21 and over). 

It is a venture of Bob Marley’s widow, Rita, who is also a reggae musician, and his children and grandchildren, in partnership with Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a leading cannabis focused private-equity firm.

Bob Marley’s name and legacy  attached to a mass-marketed global marijuana brand – could be a killer app in this booming industry.

Legal marijuana sales are expected to grow from $2.4 billion in 2014 to $10 billion by 2018, according to the cannabis investment group ArcViewThe meteoric growth in revenue is predicated on an expected transition of marijuana buying habits, from buying it on the illegal black market to purchasing it in state-regulated and taxed retail stores and dispensaries.

However, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and there are many obstacles to success for investors and brands. It is currently extremely difficult for cannabis-related businesses to obtain banking services, and many business expenses can’t be deducted under federal tax law. Production, processing and distribution can generally be done only within the state where the marijuana is sold. Interstate and international shipping of marijuana is not permitted.

Marley Natural products will include heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains in smokable and vaporizable form, Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy said last week in an interview at a major trade show for pot – the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo – in Las Vegas. The brand also features therapeutic cannabis and hemp-infused lotions; pot paraphernalia, such as smoking implements; carrying cases and other accessories. The Jamaican marijuana strains offered will be similar to those Bob Marley favored during his life, such as Lamb's Bread and Pineapple Skunk, Kennedy said.

Marley Natural will only be available for sale in local, state, and national jurisdictions where marijuana use is legal, according to Privateer. A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit marijuana use for medical purposes; four states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational adult-use, including Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska (the latter two by voter initiative in November 2014, with implementation pending under state law).

Legalization advocates predict California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii could pass similar initiatives by 2017 (see map below). Several European countries and Uruguay also permit some legal use of marijuana.

A new online ad for Marley Natural begins with sweeping aerial views of a tropical jungle and a voiceover that says: “In Bob Marley’s vision for a better world, one united by love, respect and social justice, he advocates for the positive power of the herb,” as reggae music swells in the background. The brand's logo appears in the video. It includes an image of the Lion of Judah, a powerful spiritual symbol for the Jamaican Rastafari movement, which reveres cannabis.

“In many ways our father helped start this movement at least 50 years ago,” Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, said in an interview before the launch. “He said it himself: ‘When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.’ So it feels very natural to us to use his voice on a global scale, getting the message across of the many benefits of cannabis.”

But even as public opinion appears to be gradually shifting toward more support of legalization for adult users, most Americans still don’t see cannabis as a beneficial recreational or mind-altering pastime. And they may not be ready for slick marketing of such products as joints, powerful pot cookies and candies.

Denver lawyer and mother Rachel O’Bryan co-founded the group Smart Colorado, which advocates for tighter regulation of marijuana. Her goal: Prevent use and access by young people, and inappropriate marketing of edibles and other products to children.

“I think if we end up with national brands, the federal government will have no choice – there will have to be more attention on the safety of these products,” O'Bryan said.

Members of the Marley family insist their new brand is aimed at legal adult users 21-and-over, and not the young. They promise that both the labeling and the marketing will be clear on this point.

“Children like music,” said Rohan Marley, Bob Marley’s son. “But just like with other adult products – tobacco, consumption of alcohol, going to a nightclub – people have to be responsible. Our label will always gear toward adults and steer away from children. We want people to have a responsible mind, to have full knowledge, to understand the benefits of cannabis. It’s not a toy.”

Arcmap
This 2012 map shows states predicted as likely to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 or older, or medical marijuana. As predicted, voters in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia approved recreational-marijuana legalization in November 2014. Voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana production, distribution and retail sale in 2012. - 
Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy