Willie Nelson & Bob Marley's other gift to music

The marijuana industry is attracting interest from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and also celebrity cultivators.

December 24, 2016 • Reprints

The marijuana industry is attracting interest from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and also celebrity cultivators. 

It’s a good time to be investing in the commodity as the pace of marijuana legalization in the United States has accelerated. Recreational sales of marijuana, as well as medical, have been legal in the District of Columbia, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, and analysts expect it to balloon to $50 billion by 2026. During the November election, four of five states voted to legalize: California, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts. Arizona voted down legalization.

To date, 28 states allow only medical use. Others allow only for the sale of CBD, an extract that is non-psychoactive. 

Weed is no longer the underground drug that can only be bought on street corners from criminals; it’s now a viable industry that’s making investors an absolute fortune.


Enjoying a growth rate of 17%, in 2015 legal cannabis sales in the United States jumped to $5.4 billion, and sales are expected to grow by 25% this year to $6.7 billion, according to Arcview Market Research.

By 2020 U.S. legal marijuana sales are projected to hit $21.8 billion.

Marijuana is considered to be the largest U.S. cash crop. It’s bigger than corn, cotton and wheat. In fact, according to UN data, it’s valued at about $142 billion. 


“I always knew that marijuana would be legalized,” music legend and marijuana aficionado Willie Nelson said in a statement. “I just never thought it would be in my lifetime.”

Nelson, not just a musician, but an industrialist, has a sizable portion of his investment dollars in an incredibly profitable legal marijuana venture called Willie’s Reserve.

“People need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug, “Marijuana is an herb and a flower,” he says. 

Nelson’s steadfast legalization efforts have been altruistic as well as personal; he regards it as his duty to help Americans, especially legislators, understand the benefits of marijuana use. He expects Willie’s Reserve will become as much a part of his legacy as his music.


The benefits include economic boosts for communities able to apply revenue from sales taxes to needed projects. Legalization also allows for more effective uses for funds previously spent on enforcing drug laws.

“Now that legalization is spreading across the country, there’s a great opportunity to build a company that can help a lot of people,” Nelson says. “I hope it gives social justice to those who are incarcerated for doing what we’re now doing legally.”

Nelson isn’t the only celebrity betting big on marijuana. Guys like Snoop Dogg, former Facebook president Sean Parker and billionaire George Soros have all invested in the legal marijuana market. 

With a $122 million fundraising total, Seattle-based private equity firm Privateer Holdings stands as the world’s first investment firm to invest exclusively in legal cannabis. The company has the largest private capital raise in the legal cannabis industry to date. 

“From the United States to Canada to Europe to Australia, we are witnessing a global paradigm shift and the transformation of a $200 billion industry,” Privateer Holdings co-founder and CEO Brendan Kennedy says. “As the industry transitions from a state of prohibition to a state of legalization, we are proud to be developing a global portfolio of responsible, mainstream companies with the potential to grow into billion-dollar brands.”

Founded in 2010 in Seattle by three entrepreneurs with decades of experience in private equity and venture capital, Privateer Holdings represents a group of socially conscious investors from around the world seeking to end cannabis prohibition and the social harms it causes by setting standards for the entire industry.

Unlike regional and local competitors, Privateer’s strategy is anchored around building a global supply chain and distribution network to scale its brands further and faster than anyone else. So far the company’s portfolio of disclosed investments and big brands includes: Leafly, Tilray and Marley Natural, named for legendary reggae musician Bob Marley 

“Marley Natural is the family’s effort to participate in an authentic tribute to our father’s legacy and we hope it will help further legalization and acceptance of responsible adult cannabis consumption around the world,” says Cedella Marley, Bob’s daughter and CEO of Tuff Gong International said. 

For his multitudes of fans, the iconic Marley was always more than a mega-selling Jamaican superstar. He was a hero and a prophet, a dread-locked vision of peace and love. Now, decades after his 1981 death, the Marley family and partner Privateer Holdings have announced the creation of Marley Natural: The first global brand of marijuana.

Weeding out risk: don't panic, it's organic 

Nelson saw the green light to throw his hat into the aromatic arena on April 20, 2015, just one year after Marley Natural debuted its first product.

Today, Nelson and his team are producing a variety of “specialty” strains: Dream Berry, Lemon Skunk, OG Bubba Kush, The Hunk and Sour Diesel, and testing different cultivation methods and recipes grown by independent farmers, distributed and sold by local businesses. Marley Natural and Nelson himself have handpicked everything sold.

“I am committed to having our crops farmed in an environmentally responsible way; to revitalize small farms and to grow it as clean as possible. So far, I’ve really enjoyed meeting with the best growers,” says Nelson, who is also co-founder of Farm Aid, a family farm-centered agriculture system. 


Sure, at age 83, Nelson isn’t personally growing each of these strains. But like at Marley Natural, his team made strong choices of known genetics that are sure to please the pot mavens who will make a purchase from the line of flower and CO²-extracted concentrates.

“I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market,” Nelson said in a 2015 press release. “I’ve smoked enough and I want to give back.” 

In Washington, Willie’s Reserve retail store partners include Buddy’s of Renton, The Evergreen Market, Fweedom, Greenside Recreational, Gypsy Greens, Herb(n) Elements and Nimbin Pot Shop. In Colorado, initial retail store partners include Lucy Sky, Mindful, Simply Pure and Terrapin Care Station.

Both Willie’s Reserve and Marley Natural work with businesses that are making smart and sustainable choices for the environment, have demonstrated leadership in their markets and are committed to encouraging safe, legal use. “It just seems natural that daddy should be part of this conversation,” Marley says. “As daddy would say, ‘make way for the positive day.’”

Marley Natural distributes four strands of cannabis in a product line crafted with awareness, authenticity and a genuine respect for nature’s nourishing benefits that are currently assessable at dispensaries throughout California and Oregon. 

“Marley Natural products are sold in a variety of channels,” Noorata says. “We are currently planning to launch in Washington and also plan to expand distribution to other U.S. states where cannabis is legal.”

Featuring choice picks, Marley Natural sells four categories of locally-sourced, sun-grown cannabis flower, pre-rolls and oil: Marley gold, red, green and black — all-natural, whole flower untainted by harmful fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals.

Marley Natural products are available nationwide and in select retailers in New York, Miami, Tampa, Montego Bay, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Malibu, Honolulu, Portland, Boulder and Colorado Springs. Marley Natural is a provider of not only, smoking accessories, but also body care.

“Our body care formulas contain cold-pressed hemp seed oil from an extraction process that captures its nourishing, nutrient-rich benefits in their purest form,” says Marley Natural spokesman Berrin Noorata. “It is rich in essential fatty acids, Omega-3s, and Omega-6s.”

In Oregon, Marley Natural partnered with the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), the first non-profit organization created specifically to progress the cannabis industry by increasing diversity.

“Our partnership with the MCBA created a Rise Up Expungement Day, which helped 25 people expunge their records of non-violent cannabis-related offenses,” Noorata says.

Marley Natural and Willie’s Reserve are both parts of a conversation to support goals and celebrate legacies, while seeking an end to marijuana prohibition in America.