Bob Marley’s Son Wants to Create the Starbucks of Weed
A day spent hanging out—and smoking weed—with Rohan Marley, the entrepreneur son of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Entering the tony Tribeca apartment of Rohan Marley can be a bit unnerving. For starters, it’s one of those terribly posh pads whose elevator inserts you directly into the place, like a rectal suppository. Oh, and those elevator doors may also open up to a scene of Ray Lewis—NFL legend, accused double-murderer—in gym shorts and a tank top devouring the biggest damn container of collared greens you’ve ever seen.
What the hell is the former Ravens tackling machine doing there, you ask? Well, in a past life Marley played linebacker alongside Lewis, Warren Sapp, and a future action-movie star at the University of Miami in the early ‘90s.
“I played ball at Miami. The Rock was with us,” says Marley, referring to Dwayne Johnson, the team’s backup defensive tackle.
He just didn’t see the field, chimes in Lewis between forkfuls.
They both laugh. “One thing that we respected about that guy? He never gave anybody any trouble, and he was always in the gym working out,” explains Marley. “Today, I don’t know what he’s doing. He looks like a beast.”
Following a brief stint in the Canadian Football League, and a stab at cracking Jamaica’s national soccer team, Marley purchased fifty acres of prime soil atop Jamaica’s Blue Mountains and started Marley Coffee. Today, in addition to his role as chairman of Marley Coffee, he serves as chief branding officer of House of Marley, a company selling eco-friendly, wood-finished headphones and portable audio equipment, including a turntable dubbed “Stir It Up.”
Marley is, of course, the son of Bob and Rita Marley—the reggae/musical icon and a singer in his backing band the Wailers. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and after Marley’s death from cancer, was raised from the age of nine by Bob’s mother Cedella in Miami.
“When I was born he wasn’t a legend,” Marley says of his celebrated father, “so we saw how he became one through hard work and commitment.”
The 45-year-old is one of eight Marley children but, unlike brothers Ziggy, Damian, and Stephen, didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps musically. “I was always more of an athlete,” he says. “I like to compete.” He is close to matching his old man’s child total, with seven kids of his own, including five with former partner Lauryn Hill.
“Not only are my children ambassadors, but all the Marley children are ambassadors. It’s about family,” he offers. “With the House of Marley, over the years we’ve been trying to establish ourselves not just as a brand, but a lifestyle movement. So it’s been a challenge to get people to adapt to our new way of thinking. We’re all about sustainability, the natural life, the eco life.”
Marley appears to be putting his best foot forward as brand ambassador. His aforementioned abode is teeming with Marley products, including the “Stir It Up” turntable, headphones, and portable speakers. He breaks out a pill bottle filled with a particularly pungent strain of marijuana called “Bill Murray O.G. Kush,” grinds it in a wooden Marley grinder, rolls it up in Marley “pure hemp” papers, and puffs away, before passing it over to me. Later, he’ll serve me a piping hot cup of Marley coffee. Given his brand dedication, I’m surprised that he’s not smoking Marley Natural, his family’s premium line of cannabis.
One of the Marley family’s major initiatives is legalization, and Marley, who gets considerably more long-winded as we smoke, launches into a rambling, semi-hilarious ten-minute speech on marijuana’s myriad benefits.
“It’s about awakening ourselves to a plant that has tremendous value, and so many positive things it can do,” he tells me during one of the more cogent parts, before taking a hit off his perfectly rolled joint. “My brother Damian has a beautiful song called ‘Medication’ that touches on the medicinal value of herb, and there’s plenty of testimony about people being soothed by the CBD [cannabidiol] side of herb.”
All this talk of weed, legalization, coffee and branding begs the question: Will Marley and Co. be looking to start a chain of Amsterdam-style coffeeshops?
“Why is Amsterdam so much smarter than everybody else? How did they become the first to have coffee shops?” he asks perplexedly, adding, “Absolutely I see a line of Marley coffee shops. That’s a no-brainer. We’ve gotta do that, and have a place where you can smoke, chill out, and buy the products. I’m really looking forward to doing that.”
The House of Marley brand is, in many ways, a foil to brand Trump. Whereas theirs is all tacky 24k gold finishes and environmental neglect, the Marleys aim to “create a better world and spread Bob Marley’s vision of One Love, One World.” To that aim, each House of Marley purchase helps plant one tree, and its products are made from what they call “mindfully sourced materials” such as bamboo, FSC certified wood, recycled aluminum and plastics.
And, while some have accused the Marleys of trading in crass opportunism, Bob’s son doesn’t see it that way.
“As entrepreneurs, we’re just continuing what our father started and building on the foundation, which is the music. That’s what took my father out of Trenchtown to being able to support others,” he says. “And then from the music my father built his home, and within that home he built an office, and within that office he built a recording studio [Tuff Gong]. He realized that you don’t need to stop at singing. You can press the records, too. You can be self-sufficient, and be in charge. That’s my father. That’s why they called him ‘Tuff Gong.’ Tuff Gong is the name of our father’s enterprise, and we’re continuing his legacy.”