Reggae legend Bob Marley was known to be a fan of marijuana. Now, a marijuana-focused venture capital firm is trying to bank on that tight relationship.
Privateer Holdings has reached an agreement with the family of the late musician to collaborate on what the Seattle-based firm is calling "the world's first global cannabis brand." Called Marley Natural, it will include "heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed" and be sold where regulations permit.
The product line, announced on Tuesday, will also include cannabis and hemp-infused lotions, creams to treat sunburn and small containers to store personal marijuana stashes. Availability is expected late next year where legal.
"When we look at Bob Marley, he’s a cultural icon who is known around the world," says Brendan Kennedy, CEO and cofounder of Privateer. "That’s what we mean when we talk about a global brand. We’re talking about a brand that has immediate global name recognition."
The deal between Privateer and the Marley family is a 30-year worldwide exclusive licensing agreement. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Kennedy cofounded Privateer four years ago as a rare large-scale investor in cannabis-related businesses. Earlier this year, the firm completed a $50 million cannabis fund.
Already, Privateer has put some of the roughly $72 million it has raised since its founding toward a 60,000 square-foot growing facility in British Columbia as well as the purchase of Leafly, a Yelp-like website for cannabis reviews and merchant listings.
The way Kennedy tells it, representatives of the Marley family contacted Privateer last year looking to work together. The family, led by Marley’s widow, Rita, had been considering a licensing deal for some time and received interest from a number of other investors.
"They had heard about Privateer Holdings and our leadership in this industry, our approach to this industry, and they were intrigued [to have] some initial conversations," Kennedy says.
In a statement, Rita Marley said: "My husband believed ‘the herb’ was a natural and positive part of life and he felt it was important to the world. He looked forward to this day."
Rohan Marley, one of the musician's sons, added that "we are joining with Privateer Holdings because they understand and respect our father’s legacy."
In the past, Kennedy has derided some of the clichés associated with the cannabis industry like ubiquitous images of pot leaves and, you guessed it, Bob Marley. Walk into any college dorm room and you run a good chance of spying a poster, or some other type of memorabilia, bearing images - often unlicensed - of Marley either smoking some herbal refreshment or surrounded by a marijuana leaf motif.
But, Kennedy says now, that his opinions have changed over the past 18 months - at least when it comes to Marley - as he learned more about Marley's life, his family, and his commitment to social justice.
"I was used to the bootlegged, unlicensed Marley products that I saw around this industry," Kennedy says.
Privateer wants Marley Natural to sell products that the firm and the late-musician's family feel would have had Marley's stamp of approval. "We're looking at more of the traditional Jamaican strains — the Pineapple Kushes and the Chocolopes [and other Jamaican strains] that would have been consumed by Bob Marley himself — as some of the foundations of this brand," Kennedy says. The brand will also have "a strong social conscience," according to the Privateer announcement, and Kennedy says he expects the brand to actively contribute to charities.
Kennedy says Marley Natural has not yet determined in which states and countries its products will be available or what the scale of production will be to start. He does say that the business will be headquartered in New York and that it is considering overseas locations in countries like Israel, Spain and the Netherlands, where federal marijuana laws are more relaxed than in the U.S.
As for domestic availability, Kennedy says Marley Natural is unlikely to grow its own cannabis inside the U.S. because of the current federal regulations outlawing the drug. Instead, the brand may decide which states to enter "on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis." If so, it would form partnerships with local growers in states where marijuana sales are legal and then monitor the growing process to maintain brand-wide consistency.
"This will really be a regional product," Kennedy says. "It will rely on local growers, if necessary, in individual states, that will meet our quality standards."
Of course, there is a long way to go before sales begin, but Kennedy says it is important to announce the Marley product line now. The word would have gotten out soon anyway as the business tries to build a website and hire employees to build out the necessary infrastructure.
"We've been trying to keep this secret for 18 months," he says.
It's also important to build up buzz, for a lack of a better term, as cannabis industry rivals try to develop their own widely-recognizable cannabis brands. Just last month, Aquarius Cannabis launched as a marijuana and medical marijuana branding and marketing company with that exact goal. But Kennedy shrugs off competition for Marley Natural, noting Bob Marley's global appeal as well as Privateer's plan to target a truly international market. Most other cannabis companies and brands, Kennedy says, are "myopic in nature," with a primary focus on one particular state or jurisdiction.
"We see this as an opportunity to build a pioneering global brand that articulates Bob's life and legacy," Kennedy says. "It needs to be a brand that tells his story. Bob talks about cannabis, or 'the herb' as he called it, as being 'the healing of the nation.' And, he didn't mean an individual country, he meant humankind."