Toronto Star


Why the reggae legend’s fans are so incensed about a new venture


Why the late reggae legend’s fans are standing up against company’s plan to market Bob Marley-branded pot,

Bob Marley’s compelling features — his aquiline nose, soft brown eyes, slightly sallow cheeks and trademark dreadlocks — have long been used as a commercial tool, often in ways that the late King of Reggae might not have appreciate­d.

The most visible of the products he’s been inadverten­tly marketing since his death in 1981 are the hundreds of different Marley T-shirts worn by devoted fans all over the world.

But his image also appears on, among other things (and this is going to take a while): postage stamps, belts, tank tops, hats, shoes, wallets, postcards, bumper stickers, wall hangings, posters, hoodies, tracksuits, drinking glasses, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, hand towels, blankets, bicycle shirts, iPhone cases, London buses, headphones, audio accessorie­s, coffee, cosmetic bags, necklaces, shorts, incense packages, key chains, beach towels, dog tags, car decals, cigarette cases, flags, sarongs, bottle openers, tattoos, backpacks, baseball caps, tote bags, wristbands, lamps, kitchen aprons, guitar picks, face stickers, baby and toddler clothing, purses, cigarette wrapping papers, lighters and sweaters.

There’s a Bob Marley restaurant at the Universal Orlando theme park in Florida and a Hotel Bob Marley in the remote Nepalese village of Muktinath.

Now, Marley’s globally recognized image is being harnessed to tout something he fervently believed in and used himself: marijuana. But whether it’s been done in a way the world’s most famous consumer of cannabis would have been happy with is open to conjecture.

The Marley family has just unveiled its latest venture in a decades-long quest to wring every possible cent out of the reggae legend’s name, image and memory. Led by Bob’s widow Rita, the Marleys have teamed up with a cannabis-savvy U.S. venture capital company, Privateer Holdings, to produce and market a product that, we’re told, will allow marijuana users to savour the delights of “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed.” It will be available for sale, where regulation­s allow, by the end of 2015.

The new kid on the corporate block is being marketed as “Marley Natural.” And if Canada’s anti-marijuana Prime Minister Stephen Harper loses next year’s federal election to pro-legalizati­on Justin Trudeau, it might not be long before it’s for sale, elegantly packaged and squeaky-clean legal, at an outlet near you.

It’s an intriguing prospect. And while it may be part of an increasing­ly positive scenario for the millions of people around the world who feel they should be able

“Bob Marley started to push for legalizati­on more than 50 years ago. We’re going to help him finish it.” BRENDAN KENNEDY CEO, PRIVATEER HOLDINGS

to use marijuana legally, there’s widespread concern that Big Business — an entity viewed with suspicion by a large number of them — is muscling in on the multibilli­on-dollar cannabis industry.

The vehicle chosen by Privateer Holdings to launch the Marley brand of marijuana did little to allay those qualms: it was unveiled on NBC’s Today Show, with Privateer’s CEO, Brendan Kennedy, declaring that “this is what the end of prohibitio­n looks like.”

Seattle-based Privateer, it’s worth noting, also happens to be the owner of what it claims is the world’s largest legal marijuana-growing operation — a 60,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park in Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The $22-million grow-op is licensed by Health Canada to sell marijuana for medical use, and the facility is overseen by the RCMP.

Privateer’s Marley Natural, one would have thought, might have been given a cordial welcome by marijuana smokers and advocates.

Not so. In Jamaica, the Caribbean island where Bob Marley was born, raised and spent most of his 36 years, the reaction to the news has been one of dismay.

What irks many Jamaicans most is that the United States has leaned on their country for decades to stamp out the growing of marijuana, the island’s most lucrative export, and now corporate America is jostling to cash in on cannabis as more and more states and a handful of nations declare possession of pot legal. It doesn’t help that the Marley Natural marijuana will be grown in the United States, not Jamaica.

“We see the inevitabil­ity of large, well-run companies to sell cannabis,” says Privateer’s Kennedy. “Bob Marley started to push for legalizati­on more than 50 years ago. We’re going to help him finish it.”

“Bob Marley was never about commercial­ization,” responds Herbie Miller, one of the most respected figures in the Jamaican music industry and one-time manager of Peter Tosh, the former Marley bandmate whose song “Legalize It” is the marijuana world’s unofficial national anthem and whose pro-pot campaignin­g was considerab­ly more vocal than Bob’s.

Miller describes Marley as “a poet, humanist and nationalis­t as well as an Africanist and an advocate for improving the sociopolit­ical conditions of the Jamaican people and the world’s oppressed.”

Maxine Stowe, a Jamaican Rastafaria­n leader, worries that the Marley cannabis brand will “negatively impact future efforts in Jamaica to financiall­y benefit from a legalizati­on movement gaining traction across the globe.”

Jamaicans’ concerns are shared by Steve Rolles, of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a U.K.-based think-tank that campaigns for the legal regulation of drugs.

“It’s a case of Jamaica’s cultural legacy being exploited by U.S. private equity groups to make money,” says Rolles. “The Marley estate may be cashing in, but it’s hard to see how Jamaica will benefit at all. The prime beneficiar­ies will be rich investors from the U.S.”

Misgivings about what has become known as “Big Pot” are echoed by prominent pro-marijuana organiza- tions in the U.S.

“My concern is the Marlboro-ization or Budweiser-ization of marijuana,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That’s not what I’m fighting for.”

“It’s a cultural thing,” declares Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organizati­on for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the United States’ oldest pro-legalizati­on lobby. “All of us have at least a little bit of discomfort with the corporate stuff.”

Whoever benefits most from the marijuana industry, the number of countries where possession is legal seems certain to continue to grow, and the decriminal­ization issue is expected to play a significan­t role in the campaign for Canada’s 2015 general election. Liberal leader Trudeau has declared his support for legal but strictly regulated cannabis; Conservati­ve PM Harper is equally adamant that legalizati­on is not going to happen during his watch.

To make the situation even more intriguing, Canada’s “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery, has promised he’ll play an active role in the election campaign. The country’s best-known marijuana activist, still furious with the Harper government for letting American authoritie­s extradite him from Canada and put him behind bars for almost five years for selling mail-order cannabis seeds, has announced his intention of getting his political revenge by embarking on an anti-Conservati­ve, pro-legalizati­on pre-election crusade. Garry Steckles, a former Toronto Star senior editor, is the author of Bob Marley: A Life, an acclaimed biography of the reggae singer-songwriter.

 ??  ?? Marley’s name and face will be attached to an official blend of marijuana, grown in British Columbia, available for sale by the end of 2015.
Marley’s name and face will be attached to an official blend of marijuana, grown in British Columbia, available for sale by the end of 2015.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Bob Marley in concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 1, 1979.
Bob Marley in concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 1, 1979.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada