Reggae superstar Bob Marley’s name is set to appear on a line of marijuana-related products called Marley Naturals arriving on cannabis store shelves later in 2015. Funded by Privateer Holdings who are working with the Marley family, Marley Naturals will sell “heirloom marijuana strains” from Jamaica that the company says Bob Marley himself enjoyed. Hemp-based lotions and balms that have no psychoactive effect, and accessories inspired by the singer are also among the brand’s first offerings.
Bob Marley’s family is not the only one to license a famous name to the legal marijuana business. Other musicians, actors and personalities are hoping to transform their household names into brands people ask for as well. The legal cannabis industry is just emerging state by state and large national brand names have not yet been associated with any of the products.
It makes sense for celebrities to try to leverage the brand recognition they have, said David Bell, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, because the legal marijuana market “represents a huge economic opportunity” and the brands there have not yet been established. Personalities that represent the “lifestyle” could find success in the burgeoning market there, he said.
Purple Haze Properties signed a deal earlier this month with Toronto-based company, Nutritional High, to lend the name, likeness, and song titles of the late Jimi Hendrix to cannabis-infused products including chocolate bars, hard candies and gummy bears. These and other offerings that give users a buzz will be part of the Purple Haze brand, named after Hendrix’s most famous song. Products without the psychoactive ingredient THC will go under the Stone Free brand, named after another Hendrix tune.
Of course, living celebrities are also marketing marijuana. Tommy Chong of the famous Cheech and Chong duo whose 1978 movie Up In Smoke quickly became a stoner cult classic, licenses his name to a variety of products, including a line of smoke swipes that are supposed to remove the marijuana smell from clothes and skin. He advertises the swipes in a tongue-in-cheek commercial that will bring back old times for the boomer crowd. Other eponymous products include a Chong vaporizer, Chong Water and a joint roller.
“My products represent a quality high,” said Chong, “People will have a good time and laugh and may not remember their own name.” He has an active social media presence on Twitter and Facebook peppered with pot-bon-mots like, “if you lie on the ground on your back, it’s like the world is your backpack, and you’re carrying it through space.”
Marijuana cannot legally cross state lines, so any nationally branded products that include cannabis at all, will have to be grown and processed in the state where they will be sold. Companies recognize that products manufactured in geographically diverse facilities will require more quality control measures than products that are manufactured in one location and shipped around the country. “Consistency is our number one goal,” said Nutritional High CEO David Posner, “We want customers to have the same taste and the same high in any state where they buy our products.”
Accessories like rolling papers and vape pens don’t fall under the same restrictions and can be made or shipped anywhere.
Other celebrities with their own brands of marijuana include Willie Nelson whose cannabis strain, Willie’s Reserve, is planned to be sold in Washington state and Colorado, the two states that have legalized recreational pot sales. Bethenny Frankel of Real Housewives fame is marketing Skinny Girl Pot, which purports to not make users hungry. The name comes from her line of Skinny Girl products which include salad dressing and cocktail mixes. Melissa Ethridge is also joining the industry with cannabis-infused wine that does not get the drinker high and will be sold through California medical dispensaries.
Lately the stars are branching out beyond products to services. Snoop Dogg recently funded Eaze, a marijuana delivery service in California. Chong’s newest offering is the Tommy Chong Cannabis Green Card, a re-usable debit card, that users load with cash at a participating dispensary or store and can then use to pay for purchases at any retailer in the network located in Washington state, Colorado and Oregon.
However, like Kim Kardshian’s monthly ShoeDazzle subscription, not all celebrity endeavors succeed in monetizing their fan base, said Professor Bell. The question he says, is whether the celebrity’s brand will work for the target market. The image of a stoner from the 80’s eating munchies might resonate with baby boomers more than millennials, he said. “Younger consumers may not associate themselves with the old stereotypes of pot use,” he said, “They may be looking for a different cultural eco-system, or education on different ways to consume.”
There are some new stereotypes concedes Chong, like housewives experimenting with edibles together, but the stoner stereotype has been around for 5,000 years, he said. The 77 year old pot-enthusiast, who has 207,000 Twitter followers and nearly 5 million followers on his Facebook page, said “I’m not worried about it going away anytime soon.”