The Marleys: The First Family of Cannabis
Jamaican musical and ganja icon Bob Marley left a staggering legacy fueled by the power of his biggest hit—and life philosophy—“One Love.” Today, led by son Rohan and grandson Nico, the family legend is thriving in remarkable ways.
On my first day as a sophomore at Tulane University—on a sweltering late August New Orleans afternoon—I was excited to see the dorm I’d call home for my second year of college and, more importantly, who my roommate would be.
I smelled him before I saw him.
As I made my way down the long corridor at Monroe Residence Hall—I’ve been assigned a coveted “suite” that shared a common living room with another duo—I was simultaneously hit with the double-whammy of Bob Marley’s infectious anthem, “One Love,” blaring at the highest decibels literally rattling the walls around me mixed with the unmistakable skunky aroma of the legendary Rastafarian’s favorite herb. When I realized both were originating from my yet-to-be-seen room, I approached the door with trepidation.
Standing in the middle of the surprisingly spacious room was my new roommate—let’s call him Zac—looking exactly like a cross between Spicoli (Sean Penn’s burnout character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and an older teen cast member from Stranger Things. Zac was clearly excited to see me, instantly shaking my hand rigorously even while he was offering me a hit off his joint in the same breath. Here was the quintessential disheveled, shaggy, blond stoner dude grinning like an idiot while I’m standing there in my expensive linen khaki pants and Gucci loafers. I knew, of course, I was in serious trouble. I wasn’t wrong.
It didn’t take long for me to establish that, yes, Zac was in fact the school’s unofficial, but most in-demand, dope dealer, supplying my wealthier classmates all the weed (and most other mind-altering accouterments) money could buy. Since I was the Editor in Chief of the award-winning school newspaper, The Tulane Hullabaloo, I certainly couldn’t knowingly participate in the highly illegal practice emanating from my room. So, Zac and I set up a system: If he was transacting business at home—something I implored him not to do—he’d blast Marley’s “One Love” as an audio signal for me to stay away for a bit. Somehow, the system worked like a charm, but I transferred to a new dormitory and roommate the following year.
That wouldn’t be the last time Bob Marley would come to my rescue. I’ll revisit that in a bit.
For the uninitiated, Bob Marley is to reggae and cannabis what Michael Jordan is to basketball and what Aretha Franklin is to soul. Born in Nine Mile, Jamaica in 1945, Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley rose to become the world’s most famous Jamaican singer, musician and songwriter as he fused the genres of reggae, ska and rocksteady to create a distinctive, unmistakable sound. The world of music was forever changed due to this Rastafari’s colossal, undeniable, contributions.
Importantly, Marley was also a lifelong pioneer in the fight to legalize marijuana (ganja), and in 1976, because of his outspoken support of myriad democratic social reforms, the legend survived an assassination attempt in his home. But in a cruel fate soon thereafter, Marley was diagnosed with melanoma and succumbed to cancer at the age of 36, dying in Miami in 1981. At the state funeral the Caribbean nation held for Marley—he was buried with his guitar near his birthplace in Nine Mile—Prime Minister Edward Seaga beautifully eulogized Jamaica’s favorite son: “Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He’s part of the collective consciousness of this nation.”
Marley packed more humanity and action in his three-and-a-half-decades on the planet than any musician had previously in the 20th century. But what Bob Marley left in his wake is nothing less than an undeniable plethora of talented, dedicated Marleys—punctuated by his sons Ziggy, Rohan, Julian and Damian, grandson Nico and dozens of other standout offspring who proudly bear his surname.
To be a direct descendant of Bob Marley is to bear the dual responsibility of legacy and excellence in whatever your individual pursuit may be. The Marley name is thus forever enshrined alongside other globally familial dynasties: Rockefellers, Mings, Habsburgs. Make no mistake, Bob Marley and his legion of worthy scions are here to stay.
As one of (at least) 11 of Bob Marley’s children, oldest son Ziggy, most closely took after his father’s musical legacy becoming a formidable reggae artist in his own right, going on to win five Grammy awards. His worldwide fame, like his dad’s, was rooted in the music though. In 2011, Ziggy also released an acclaimed comic book, appropriately titled “Marijuanaman.”
Ziggy’s brother, Rohan, took a more circuitous route to enhancing the Marley dynasty. A musician to be sure, Rohan also excelled as a former collegiate and professional football player for the University of Miami (“The U”) and later the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Rough Riders, and an entrepreneur. Rohan co-founded the Tuff Gong clothing line and in 2009, launched the mega successful Marley Coffee business in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. Rohan took the coffee brand public just two years later in 2011 under the name Jammin Java Corp (JAMN) on Nasdaq.
With the distinction of arguably being the most successful business-minded Marley (he’s at the very least the most marketing savvy), Rohan also heads the Marley’s charitable organization, 1Love, and launched his first cannabis brand, Lion Order, this year on April 20 (4/20). Rohan, unsurprisingly, has five independently successful children with his ex-wife, the multiple Grammy-winning singer and actress, Lauryn Hill.
When I meet up with Rohan Marley, a happy, optimistic man at first glance, I ask him straight out: “So, you finally made your way to cannabis with Lion Order, eh?”
“Yeah, my friend, Lion Order’s my thing for sure,” he says. “The cannabis space was beautiful for me because, coming from the coffee world, I was very interested in the notes of the cannabis flower itself as well as the psychoactive side of it, too. But the profile, the terpenes, the taste of cannabis is hugely important to me and to all of us at Lion Order. We focus on the terpenes and the high THC content creating a strong, beautiful balance. Lion Order, I believe, is worthy of the Marley name.”
But why wait so long to enter the de facto family business?
Smiling, Rohan says, “One of the biggest reasons why I took my time to launch Lion Order was that we could properly represent the Rastafari movement in the cannabis space at a high level, so that’s precisely what we did. I’m proud of that. Lion Order is also a way for us to unite as a people, all different ethnicities, different religions, different everything and have a conversation about love, life and what really matters.”
Lion Order—along with partner and cultivator Heavyweight Heads—launched the cannabis and CBD lifestyle brand in Michigan. But like most things in Rohan’s orbit, this, too, has a football connection as former Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike James joined the brand’s roster as vice president. But football is only the beginning of the connection between Rohan and his eldest son, Nico, founder of CBD brand, Lion X CBD.
At this juncture, I’d like to point out that as I’m talking to Rohan and then a little later to Nico, more and more connections to my own life experiences keep cropping up, none bigger than Rohan graduating from Palmetto High School in Miami (I graduated from Palmetto’s rival, Southwest Miami High) and playing for my hometown school, University of Miami Hurricanes alongside legends Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp and, yes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For his part, Nico became an All-American linebacker at Tulane University, the very same school I graduated from as well. It would seem that I was fated to bond with this particular Marley father/son tandem, a very pleasant task indeed.
After his college playing days, Nico signed with the NFL’s Washington football team (now called Commanders) before leaving the game altogether a few years later. Taking advantage of his degree he earned at Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, Nico joined his dad Rohan at Marley Coffee where he soon realized he wanted to strike out on his own. Nico launched Lion X CBD in April 2020 just as the COVID-19 global pandemic was roaring. “I started the company at the start of the pandemic because I concluded that I needed to give back something positive, especially during a time like that,” Nico says. “We were planning on doing an Earth Day launch event in New York City to showcase Lion X, but since we couldn’t, we thought we’d still launch on the website so at the very least people were able to purchase quality CBD during that very difficult time.”
I find Nico, unsurprisingly, a lot like his dad in temperament, with a relaxed approach to speaking and what I can only describe as the Marley ethos: “cool vibes only.” When did Nico realize having his last name was a little different than his friends’ surnames?
“Oh wow,” Nico says, smiling like a Cheshire cat. “I was just a kid; I went to my Uncle Ziggy’s concert, and it was like a whole thing with so many people in the crowd. My cousins and I went down by the stage, hanging out with all the people. We were having so much fun and everyone was going crazy for my uncle and his music. So, yeah, I think that was the first time I noticed that being a Marley was special.”
After a failed attempt at opening a Marley Coffee branded shop in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, Nico says he wanted his next venture to connect two of his and the family’s great loves: football and herb; thus, Lion X was born.
“I wanted to merge my two lives, right?” he says. “But since herb was so heavily regulated in Miami, I said, all right, maybe not herb, maybe it’s CBD. So, right then and there, I called my cousin on my mother’s side, Gaetan Khawly, and I told him about the idea for Lion X and we became 50/50 partners right on the spot.” Nico and Khawly are both listed as CEO & Founder of Lion X.
Asking Nico what separates his company from the scores of CBD brands—particularly celebrity-backed enterprises—all seeming to tout the same benefits, he eagerly cuts me off, almost as if he was anticipating the question. “At Lion X, restorative wellness is both a philosophy for living your best life as well as a guiding principle that encompasses healing the body, mind and soul from within,” he says. “We also have something the other CBD brands don’t. We’re the only brand that can weave together top-quality products, athleticism, entrepreneurship and my family’s heritage—creating a singular, modern wellness brand made for athletes, fitness enthusiasts and everyone in between.” As far as elevator pitches go, that’s a pretty darn good one.
Julian Marley, Rohan’s brother (Nico’s uncle), after a lifetime as a world-renowned reggae artist and devoted Rastafarian, also owns a popular cannabis and CBD brand, JuJu Royal, furthering the Marley family legacy as the clear first family of weed. By a mile.
And yet another Marley son, this time Bob’s youngest, Damian, has also got himself quite the lucrative cannabis business. Damian, an acclaimed DJ, singer and rapper globally known by his nickname, “Junior Gong,” recently partnered with his longtime manager and friend, Dan Dalton, to become co-founders of the California cannabis brand, Evidence.
There are a lot of Marleys doing cool things in the still red-hot business that is ganja, and Bob’s sons have certainly taken that to heart and activated respective, effective plans.
When I circle back and ask Rohan about his dad’s legacy once again—or, rather, what perhaps everyone gets wrong about the icon, Bob Marley, Rohan looks at me and says, markedly quieter, “Richard, my dad was a human being like everybody else. He wasn’t a god; he was a man, and he was my dad.”
That man, that dad, lived an electrifying, albeit tragically brief life so few of us could even imagine. And how proud he must be that Rohan, Nico, Julian and all the other family members are legitimately thriving in fields as diverse as medicine and music, and all are proudly carrying the name Marley into the future.
I promised to tell you about the second time Bob Marley came to my rescue. This time it was in New York’s luxe enclave, the Hamptons, at the single most pretentious dinner party I may have ever attended. At the height of the meal, the imperious host declared that the guest who came up with the best answer, would win $100 from each guest as a prize. The question was: “What was the simplest song that made the biggest impact?”
As the other guests worked their way down every Motown hit record—I almost went with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” but realized there was nothing simple about that song—instead I harkened back to my sophomore year at Tulane and how my burnout roommate always warned me about his transactions by blasting Marley’s irresistible and unifying global anthem, “One Love,” so that’s the song I chose. The moment I said it—and the audible gasp my answer provoked—I knew I had won. (The Beatles’ “Let It Be” came a close second).
So, I have to thank Bob Marley, once again, this time for helping me win $2200 that evening, some of which I kinda-sorta paid it forward in his honor, by lending my best friend $300 for some “really good shit,” as he put it. He thanks Bob, too.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.