Privateer Holdings, a private-equity firm that invests exclusively in marijuana businesses, is creating a line of Bob Marley-inspired cannabis products as more states legalise the drug.
"It's no longer a subculture or countercultural thing," Privateer co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Brendan Kennedy said in an interview. "Part of ending prohibition is by creating brands that fuel change."
The company's latest investment is in a line of marijuana strains and accessories inspired by the reggae legend. The products, developed in conjunction with Marley's family, will go on sale next year. Kennedy, 42, started Privateer, along with two partners, in May 2010 after about nine months of research into the cannabis industry.
Kennedy calls the marijuana business a "massive opportunity" worth as much as $50 billion a year in the US. Privateer, based in Seattle, has raised $22 million in capital and is about to close another round of funding for at least $50 million. Investors are attracted to the "high risk, high reward," Kennedy said.
"Our investors are in this for the long haul," he said. "They're looking for venture-capital-style returns of 10 to 20 times their investment."
Alaska, Oregon and District of Columbia voters opted to legalise recreational pot in the November 4 election, joining Washington and Colorado. Medical use of the drug is allowed in Washington, DC, and 23 states. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said last week he would direct police to reduce arrests for small amounts of pot by issuing tickets instead.
While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, the US Justice Department has said it won't challenge state legalisation.
Still, some health groups have concerns about the increasing acceptance of marijuana use. The American Lung Association says marijuana smoke contains a greater amount of carcinogens than tobacco smoke and is associated with adverse physical effects as well as mental, emotional and behavioural changes.
A study released last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that heavy marijuana users had different brain shapes and lower IQs than nonsmokers.
Privateer's Bob Marley-branded products, called Marley Natural, will go on sale in late 2015. Kennedy said the label includes some of Marley's favourite marijuana strains, such as pineapple skunk and chocolope, as well as vaporizers and hemp-infused lotions. Privateer owns 100 per cent of New York-based Marley Natural.