Marley Natural: Inside Reggae Dynasty's Splashy L.A. Cannabis Launch

"People are getting educated about this plant," Stephen Marley told us at party celebrating new family venture

Reggae singer Stephen Marley (left) shares a whiff of Indica cannabis with Big Dread, a friend of Bob Marley's, at the launch party for Marley Natural. Credit: Photograph by Steve Appleford

"This is Bob's night," Stephen Marley shouted to a crowded living room high up in the Hollywood Hills. Saturday was Bob Marley's birthday, and his son — bearded with dreads past his shoulders, an acoustic guitar across one knee — paid tribute to the late reggae icon with a performance of Marley classics, from "Jammin'" to "Three Little Birds," as the family name was being celebrated for a new venture.

The night's party marked the debut of Marley Natural, a new company instigated by the family to create and market cannabis products and accessories. Scattered across the property overlooking nighttime Los Angeles were glowing display cases showing off jars of Marley-brand marijuana, pipes, cannabis oil, hemp-seed body wash and more.

On the color-coded labels is the regal image of a lion, alongside these notices: "Marley Natural promotes a worldwide vision for positive change" and "For medical use only." Company packaging is heavy on earth tones, with a vintage quote from the Tuff Gong himself: "Herb is a plant. Herb is good for everything."

Stephen "Ragga" Marley, a Grammy-winning reggae artist who was nine when his father died from cancer in 1981, called the new company family "destiny." "As a people, as a culture in Jamaica, as a Rastaman, herb is such a big part of our life. It's a sacrament to us," Marley, 43, told Rolling Stone. "People are getting educated about this plant — not just a get-high thing, but what the plant is, was and what it has to offer as a plant. That is the greatest thing: People are getting educated and make their own decisions."

Party guests were advised to secure legal California medical-marijuana cards ahead of the event. For those who didn't, there were forms by the door and near-instant authorization. Inside the large modern home were live reggae and DJs, jerk chicken and open bars, and a booth on the back patio where guests lined up for free samples of Marley herb.

Behind the counter was a team of Marley Natural sales reps, explaining the range of marijuana products, from the heavier "Indica" strain to the "Gold" and "Hybrid" options with lower levels of psychoactive THC. Of the physical effects, Jeff Hastings lifted a jar of Gold and said, "You're not going to be sitting down. You're going to be going out. You're going to be writing or painting or drawing. You're going to be outside doing stuff."

A spliff of Indica burned between Stephen Marley's fingers much of the night, and he carried his own private stash of ganja. "I wanted to have a strain of herb that represents integrity," he said of the Marley weed. "Just clean good herbs."

In the crowd were other Marley brothers and grandkids. Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sat with friends who flipped through the first issue of the biannual Marley Natural magazine. Emily Kokal and Jenny Lee Lindberg from Warpaint arrived during a break from the recording studio.

"I was in a car that said we were going to a weed shindig," said Kokal with a smile. "I was game. Then when I got here, I realized what was happening."

Nearby was an open bar, drawing only modest traffic as guests lit up around the property. "This is really chill, probably because people are getting high rather than just getting wasted," Kokal said. "It's a different culture. The culture of alcohol is legal, so it's more prevalent everywhere you go, which is completely acceptable in our era. Something like this is slightly threatening because it's new, but it's a less threatening environment."

As legal medical marijuana spread across an increasing number of states in the U.S., pot entrepreneurs have sought a Marley endorsement for years. The process of creating Marley Natural began three years ago, when the family reached out to potential partners through its entertainment rep, Creative Artists Agency. "We wanted to build a brand that in some way could fuel change," said Tahira Rehmatullah, the company's general manager. "It's an amazing collaborative effort."

Beginning this week, the cannabis buds and oils are being launched exclusively in Los Angeles at three local dispensaries. (Accessories are available worldwide on the company website.) "L.A. really is a cultural hub, and a lot of great brands start here," explained Rehmatullah. "There is a strong cannabis culture." The Marley products will slowly become available across California, then expand to Colorado, Oregon and Washington later in 2016.

The Marleys will remain directly involved, even as Stephen prepares to release a new album of hip-hop-influenced reggae, Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, this spring. "I was born a musician," he said. "I didn't become a musician. I can't remember a time when I wasn't around the music."

Music is a family tradition, but so is business, insisted Stephen. Marley Natural taps into the side of Bob Marley "that was a businessman. My father had his own record plant, his own record shop, his own pressing plant. He was a very wise businessman."