Bob Marley: from reggae icon to Marlboro Man of marijuana

A new line for the world’s ninth most lucrative dead celebrity

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

A kind of political correctness dictates that one should not be too hard on Bob Marley, who died of cancer in 1981 aged 36. His loping, mid-tempo reggae sounds slightly vapid to my ears, but for many non-Jamaicans, Bob Marley is reggae; he remains an international Rasta celebrity, honoured with a waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s as well as a Jamaican Order of Merit (the third-highest honour in the Jamaican honours system).

Last week, the Bob Marley estate announced that a special ‘Marley Natural’ marijuana blend was to go on sale legally in the United States next year. A private equity group based in Seattle, Privateer Holdings, has teamed up with Marley’s widow and children to mass-produce an ‘heirloom’ strain of Jamaican ganja in the form of lotions, creams and loose leaves. Marley is poised to become the face of the international movement to legalise marijuana.

Ironically, in spite of the Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller’s pledge that marijuana would be legalised this month, the drug is still illegal in Marley’s native Jamaica. Those found in possession can expect a hefty fine or custodial sentence. Marley nevertheless smoked the herb, cooked with the herb, drank the herb as a tea, grew the herb, passed the herb to his friends, and praised the herb in song. Wittingly or not, he made the herb big business. Bottles of skin moisturiser cream extracted from ‘Bob Marley’ cannabis-fibre oil, together with Bob T-shirts, Bob key rings, Bob headphones, Bob watches and Bob CDs are now sold all over the world (not least to dreadlocked Japanese). Impressively, Marley is ninth on Forbes’s annual list of top-earning dead celebrities; he rakes in around $20 million a year for the estate. Now he is to be the Marlboro Man of marijuana.

A few years ago in Jamaica I met Bob Marley’s old associate Leeroy James Campbell, who since 1990 had been a self-appointed ‘Scientific Ganja Researcher’ to the Jamaican nation. Brother Leeroy (as he insisted I address him) ran a guest-house on the north coast cluttered with Marley memorabilia and potted cannabis plants everywhere. In his swimming briefs and silver-arm bracelets, Leeroy was a dreadlocked member of the Ethiopian Coptic Church of Zion, for which marijuana and the rituals of smoking marijuana are holy. (He died in 2009, aged 80, of lung cancer aggravated by marijuana consumption.)

We were relaxing by his poolside when he said to me, ‘Brother Ian, would you like to blow some bush-tea? Like Brother Bob did?’

Smiling, Brother Leeroy licked Rizla papers into a carrot-shaped cheroot, plugged one end with a cardboard filter, lit it, puffed on it, then passed it to me. Out of curiosity I drew on the king-size creation and waited for the mellow Marley mood to come — but nothing happened. Instead I watched smoke leak like treacle from Brother Leeroy’s nostrils.

As a vaunted ‘ganja guru’, Leeroy had worked in tandem with Marley’s widow Rita Marley to promote marijuana as a medicine for migraine and Aids wasting syndrome, as well as the chronic pain of MS. I myself, unfortunately, had begun to experience feelings of confusion, if not incipient paranoia. The potent ‘Special Brew’ varieties of marijuana currently available in Jamaica and Britain might be reason to criminalise possession. After smoking the whole of one of Brother Leeroy’s cigarettes, and while halfway through another, I could feel myself lofting giddily upwards on clouds of holy Bob smoke.

I felt I needed to ask if marijuana could cause (or at least aggravate) mental illness. Far from giving me a fruitful, freakout-free mystical experience, it had taken me to a far continent of anxiety. What horrible stuff it was. How right the Jamaican government was to outlaw Marley’s campaign to legalise it. I began to rehearse a little speech on the matter. But then I remembered that Leeroy had been a policeman: Bob Marley’s arguments for decriminalisation would have been familiar to him. Incredibly he had served in the Jamaica Constabulary, admittedly a long time ago — 1949 — but still it seemed odd.

‘Did you make any arrests?’

‘Once — for sheep rustling.’ Sheep? In Jamaica? (The grey-bearded face nodded. Definitely sheep.) Little clouds of blue smoke were now swirling round the ex-policeman, who had become a shimmering mass of pointillist particles. What to do? On the pretext of feeling tired I went to my room, a thin-walled cubicle hard by the swimming pool with a bedside photograph of Bob Marley (who else?) puffing on a giant reefer. I lay on the bed, fully dressed, rigid with fear, with the blinds pulled down.

From the direction of the pool I could hear Brother Leeroy wheezing and coughing. I thought I caught the word ‘spy’; I contemplated running, but if I was seen to leave now (especially if I was seen to leave at great speed) it would look like an admission of guilt (that I was a government spy). The situation had really become quite bad.

Two hours later, however, I was back at the poolside, feeling bright and beatifically attuned. ‘Brother man, how you feel?’ said Leeroy.

‘I feel all right.’

‘How all right?’

‘All right all right.’

‘Brother man, tell me exactly how you feel,’ Leeroy was asking me now.

‘Good,’ I said. ‘Full of the most natural Marley vibes.’

‘Nice, nice,’ said the ex-policeman, with a sincere Ethiopian Coptic smile. Or not so nice? Marijuana had put my day literally out of joint; I had gone, if not quite to pot, then grievously awry. The ‘Marley Natural’ ganja products, when they hit the market next year, will benefit the singer’s estate, but not, perhaps, the human brain.

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  • Tilly

    I just love Bob Marley’s music, In fact Caribbean music is my favourite.I listen to it as I write kiddie books.
    But without the illegal substances–just red, red wine–sorry couldn’t help it.

    • Porzellan

      You clearly take a lot more than red, red wine, which couldn’t half account for your condition.

      • Tilly

        Well acerbic wit clearly benefits someone, who clearly isn’t a mawkish
        miss at a vicars tea party, are you not ? I rather like fencing its my favourite sport
        and a girl must always carry a sword and one white glove.

      • Tilly

        I was going to say something to you in Dutch, but its
        a little used language. Just always dance to Marley
        with the sun on your face, its a must with his music.

        • Al Bowlly

          “Dutch … a little used language.” I think you will find that the Dutch use it quite a lot, more so than any other. Marley was dead to begin with. Try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEyPt7H66nc

    • Joe Bloggins

      You’d have to be pissed to listen to that shite.

      • Tilly

        Come on Joe, just give it a go!

    • Stanford Lynx

      BOB Marley brand? You betcha. I will be happy to buy that brand ASAP, I have had a Medical Marijuana Card for years; and will retain it even after my state of residence makes it legal for recreational use, voted in this month it will be legal beginning in July 2015 for anyone over 21 years of age. If you happen to be fighting over-seas killing human beings like we did in the sixties and seventies, et cetera, (also the eighties, nineties, and beyond), like I did as a young man, wait until you are 21 and off duty, come to one of the following states and enjoy a taste of the freedom that I fought the dominoes for in Vietnam and Laos, some time ago, Tempus Fugit.

      More and more states, in the US of A — Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska, and the Washington DC plus Guam, etc. and even the whole South American country of Uruguay have lifted the irrational, unjustified, prohibition of the natural plant “Cannabis aka marijuana”. So it is legal in some places and will no doubt be legal more and more when the masses rediscover what a truly remarkable plant with many positive uses, medicinal, therapeutic, fun.

      The dangerous things about Cannabis or marijuana, are the unjust and wrong laws against it that have caused good people to have criminal records, and many have been thrown into jails and prisons. The War against drugs is a War against the people. “They” are playing you, having created the Cartels, they are keeping the cartels in business with the restriction of this natural plant that simple common sense with an unbiased view will tell you that thee whole “Reefer madness” doctrine is a terrible LIE that cannot be allowed to remain a part of our reality. Legalize Cannabis everywhere, join the free thinking people of the enlightened states listed above. Or not just allow yourselves to have the option, the safer drug of personal choice.

      And safer than alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and the Opioids that it is helping thousands and thousands of people to get off of the powerful, harmful, dangerous Opium derived medications that Medical Doctors have been pushing on their patients. Cannabis used to be an accepted part of the world’s pharmacology. Listed along with other medications, popular for many of the same medical issues a hundred years ago as folks are using it for now.

      I am 67, and was a POW in Laos, 1969-1972, I caught eight rounds, and happened to survive, most of my group did not. I have injuries that are being exacerbated with the passing of time, my injuries are catching up with me, and Cannabis is so very helpful. I do not get “high”from it even when I use 80% CO2 extracted oil that I vaporize to maximize the pain fighting abilities of the plant.

      I have had ongoing prescriptions for Oxycodone, 30 mg tablets that I need to take 2 of four times a day for the unending pain I suffer. The Oxy barely helps any longer because you become “drug-tolerant”, I never get any sort of “high” from taking the opioids either, but the side-effects are very debilitating, and damaging. The Cannabis actually helps me cut way back on the Opium based drugs. Cannabis is one of the very most useful AND safe drugs and/or foods that are available today. More and more people will rediscover this truth, and hopefully they can choose whether to use it or not.

      End the lie that is Cannabis Prohibition, “Just Say NOW”. How green is “your” garden?

      Check this video of three grandmothers trying marijuana for the very first time, (in a state that has legalized it.


      It’s worth checking out IMO.


  • Rodger Chappelle

    Fear and paranoia are not caused by marijuana. They already exist in the person. This is not a judgment. But, it is an indication that the person is full of fear and apprehension and that the herb, which reduces many inhibitions, also reduces the defenses we erect against our inner state. By the way, fear and paranoia are not irrational in the world we live in, but it is good to know our inner states so we can channel them rather than them controlling us. This is not a plug for marijuana use.

  • MC73

    Increasingly, the only thing I learn from reading Spectator articles is that the author is an arsehole.

    • Porzellan

      In that case, you won’t have learned anything from this one, then.

    • Porzellan

      An upvote from ‘Peter Reynolds’: I’d take a spa treatment never mind a long bath, if I were you.

  • Nasty, spiteful, tasteless, inaccurate, misleading, distorted and straight to IPSO as a formal complaint.

    • gettheteas

      What a pathetic, childish remark – but then I see you a pro-dope fanatic so probably par for the course. If you really do waste your time complaining to IPSO about a perfectly justified first person story about getting stoned with a Marley cohort, how upset must you get at the plethora of new scientific studies suggesting cannabis has serious health implications for young people. Try sampling some of your own product and chill out.

      • Porzellan

        ‘Peter Reynolds’: NOT the thinking man. Not a fan of freedom, either. A stoner that likes tyranny. Pass the sick bag, would you?

      • I’m not “pro-dope” at all. That’s a decision for each individual. I’m pro-reform to end the dreadful harms of prohibition.

        It makes me chuckle how some troll with an idiotic pseudonym can accuse anyone else of being childish.

        As for “the plethora of new scientific studies suggesting cannabis has serious health implications for young people”, these are the one you read about in the ‘newspapers’ , yes? Do you have the remotest idea how much falsehood and distortion Fleet St publishes about cannabis? I expect you suck it all up eagerly and believe every word don’t you?

        • Tilly

          I think you’d be better off with a pseudonym
          anything is preferable to being you, I am sure.

          • Al Bowlly

            Oh God. I find myself in agreement with you on something. My life is unravelling before my eyes!

          • It certainly is. You can look at the kangaroos but I don’t advise feeding them or trying to pet them.

        • gettheteas

          Oh dear. You’re a paranoid conspiracist as well – hardly a good advert for the mental effects of cannabis use. Yes, ‘newspapers’ are all out to get cannabis. It’s top of their agenda (don’t ask why they should care so much, that’s too complicated)

  • Al Bowlly

    I always found Bob Marley’s music very unrewarding but okay for entry-level white stoner pseuds. The Gladiators, on the other hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EzQl-0KctU

    • What’s wrong with Marley, then?

  • All this snootiness about Marley — I’m not having it! His live album in London is a tour de force, his ‘Trenchtown Rock’ joyously uplifting, and the rest of the songs every bit as good. I can’t imagine better music, and I’ll let the ‘authenticians’ stew in their own juices.

  • Jim

    ‘He died in 2009, aged 80, of lung cancer aggravated by marijuana consumption.’
    Very odd, I would like an explanation of this aggravation.
    I also found it ‘aggravating’ that the author implied that weed may ‘aggravate’ mental health issues, and then just moved on without explanation.
    Plus since the author is clearly not used to smoking it was probably not advisable to consume so much in one go an then complain he feels a bit off. It’s the same as if you never drink then down half a bottle of whisky and wonder why the room is spinning while you’re on the floor vomiting, except that didn’t happen, he just felt a bit anxious.

    I’m not pro legalisation, but when people write nonsense, it doesn’t help anybody’s case.

  • This is the music we are supposed to accept as vapid and loping and generally just not hitting them high notes. Well the refutation of that lives and breathes in every exultant note: