Photo is Brendan Kennedy, CEO, Privateer Holdings, your major Canadian (medical) marijuana supplier
“My father was the first entrepreneur in the family,” Rohan Marley, the sixth of Bob Marley’s eleven children, said the other day. “He started his own record label, his own restaurant. He knew that, in order to give something back to the people, he had to create. You can’t be no philanthropist, no Warren Buffett, unless you make something first.”
Rohan, who is forty-two, is also an entrepreneur. He has a leadership role in several of his family’s businesses, including House of Marley (headphones, speakers), Zion Rootswear (T-shirts, onesies), and Marley Coffee. The family’s newest venture, which will launch next year, is called Marley Natural. “It’s a particular plant,” Rohan said, of the company’s inventory. “One that grows naturally next to the mango tree, the mint, the paprika. The Hindu sages speak of it. The rabbis speak of it.” It is marijuana.
Marley Natural is a partnership between the Marley estate and Privateer Holdings, “a private equity firm shaping the future of the legal cannabis industry.” (Privateer owns one of the largest providers of medical marijuana in Canada.) In a video on MarleyNatural.com, a camera rushes toward verdant mountains. “He advocates for the positive power of the herb,” a voice-over says. Bob Marley, in archival footage, flips his dreadlocks. The logo is a Lion of Judah between two green leaves.
Rohan, who recently shaved his dreadlocks, wore a ruffled white shirt and a porkpie hat. He sat in the company’s new office, on the Bowery. Around the table were Brendan Kennedy, the C.E.O. of Privateer, and James Estime, Marley’s valet. “Three Little Birds” played on a House of Marley stereo. “James, turn the music down,” Rohan said. Estime, a burly man wearing a winter vest, picked up Marley’s iPhone and lowered the volume.
Marley grew up in Jamaica, and moved to the U.S. at the age of twelve. He was a star linebacker at the University of Miami, even though he was shorter than most of his teammates, who included Ray Lewis and Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson. (“Bob’s boys, we’re not scared of tall mountains,” Marley said.) Later, he toured with the Melody Makers, his siblings’ reggae band. “I was practicing to become a drummer,” Marley said. “Unfortunately, at that time I was with a woman who thought my drumming was shit. She killed my spirit to be a musician.” Her name is Lauryn Hill. They are no longer together. In 1999, he bought a coffee plantation in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Kennedy got an M.B.A. from Yale and worked for an affiliate of Silicon Valley Bank. “My job was to study niche industries,” Kennedy said. “One day, I heard a pitch from a company in the medical-cannabis space, and I went, ‘This is a forty-billion-dollar market, and no one’s taking it seriously.’ ” He left the bank and started Privateer.
“We’d been approached by one million people about selling Bob Marley pipes, lighters, you name it,” Marley said. The Marleys turned them all down, until Creative Artists Agency, which represents the family, set up a meeting with Privateer. “When I met this guy”—he gestured toward Kennedy—“I knew: This is the man.” Kennedy shrugged appreciatively.
“We’re looking at four to six botanical strains, at first,” Kennedy said.
“The quality of the herb is very important to us,” Marley said. Marley Natural plans to sell smokable cannabis in countries where it is legal—the Netherlands, Uruguay—and, perhaps, in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, and Alaska. “We’ll also offer a line of topical creams,” Kennedy said.
A Privateer employee interrupted with a bit of news: the Oxford English Dictionary had just named “vape” the word of the year. A plan was formed: a trip to a nearby vaping lounge, where e-cigarettes are sold and sampled. Marley Natural plans to carry smoking accessories, and Kennedy believes in market research.
“You guys go,” Marley said. “It’s too cold for that shit.” Eventually, he was persuaded. Estime helped him with his coat.
At the Henley Vaporium, in Nolita, Marley sat at the “e-cig bar” and browsed a menu of flavors—Psychotherapy, Stop and Frisk, Cereal Killa. Justin Haber, the “vapologist” on duty, took apart an e-cigarette to show how it worked.
“Can you smoke anything you want out of that?” Kennedy asked.
Haber stiffened. “Hypothetically, if you had the proper—why are you asking?”
“Don’t worry, brother,” Marley said. “We’re starting a company, selling the herb aboveboard. Called Marley Natural. I’m one of Bob’s boys, you understand?”
Haber arched his brows. “All legal?”
“Hundred per cent,” Marley said.
“In that case, fuck yeah,” Haber said. “A couple drops of hash oil in the tank, you’re good to go. Just be careful—that shit hits you like a Mack truck to the face.”