Seattle-based private equity firm Privateer Holdings has agreed a deal with the estate of the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley to launch a global cannabis brand.
Privateer invests in the cannabis industry and its Marley Natural subsidiary will start selling products late next year, including "heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains", marijuana-infused skin creams and lip balms, and accessories such as vaporisers and pipes "based on those that Bob preferred".
It is Privateer's biggest move into the blossoming consumer market for recreational cannabis that has emerged thanks to the legalisation of sales and production in several US states including Colorado and Washington, and Uruguay, decriminalisation elsewhere and growing acceptance of medicinal use.
The drug remains illegal under federal US law.
In the US, the total medical and recreational market is expected to hit $2.6 billion (€2.1 billion) in revenue this year. America's illegal cannabis market was estimated at about $40 billion in 2010 by the Rand Corporation, the think tank.
Privateer chief executive Brendan Kennedy said the offer to partner with Marley's estate was irresistible
“The question we’ve been asking ourselves for 4½ years is: what does the first global brand look like in this industry?” he said. “If you were to look throughout history for the one person most associated with this product, it would be Bob Marley. He has a global reach.”
The singer's cultural status has not dimmed since his death in 1981. Marley's estate brought in $20 million (€16 million) in the past year, putting him at number five on Forbes's annual list of top-earning deceased celebrities – behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, but ahead of Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon. His greatest hits album, Legend, first released in 1984, hit number five on the Billboard sales chart this September.
His heirs have also traded on his name to launch a number of businesses, including House of Marley, which sells headphones and audio accessories, and Marley Coffee. The family has been caught up over the years in legal battles with each other and with Marley's record label over control of his assets, image, name and music. The singer died aged 36 in 1981 and left no will.
The decision to step into the emerging legitimate cannabis market is in keeping with Marley’s long-time advocacy for legalisation and social justice, said the singer’s daughter, Cedella Marley.
“Opinions toward cannabis are changing. People are recognising the benefits of the herb,” she said. “Our father was leading this conversation for 50 years so it’s natural that he’s part of this conversation today.”
Marley Natural products will be sold in countries and jurisdictions where they are legal, including cannabis in some places. Mr Kennedy said he was interested in markets including the Netherlands, Uruguay, Canada, Spain and Israel.
Privateer has raised $22 million through through equity funding and a convertible bridge loan. It is in the midst of another funding round, expected to close before the end of this year, that will add another $50 million. Its businesses include Tilray, a Canadian medical marijuana producer, and Leafly, an online cannabis ratings site. Financial Times