‘Marley Natural' marijuana strain to roll out in 2015, but regulations are a problem

Business trajectory for pot brands is unclear

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bob Marley family is looking to do to marijuana products what Burt’s Bees has done to wax: launch a global market takeover.

Family members of famed reggae artist Bob Marley will roll out the “first global brand of marijuana” that they say will include pot-infused creams, vaporizers and strains of premium “heirloom Jamaican cannabis.” The plan is for the brand, Marley Natural, to come on the market where the drug is legal in late 2015. The creams and vapors will be available globally.

Bob Marley already is ranked by Forbes as the fifth highest-paid dead celebrity, making his benefactors over $20 million in the past year. He died in 1981.

Bob Marley’s lyrics often praised the effects of the “herb,” and, likewise, the members of the Marley family -- including his wife Rita, daughter Cedella and son Rohan -- plan to  promote the products as beneficial for the “mind, body and spirit.” But the road to marijuana market legitimacy may have a few bumps before Marley Natural can count itself among the ranks of product conglomerates such as Coca-Cola and Marlboro.

“The usual rules on ‘how do you build a brand?’ have to be tailored in some degree on what regulations say you can and cannot do about a product,” said Richard Blau, lawyer at Gray Robinson. “The cannabis industry has not matured enough to be at the point where they are regulated to the same point as alcohol or tobacco … based on what I have seen I suspect they will run into some regulatory issues.”

Blau points to the product video released for Marley Natural that claims marijuana has spiritual and physical benefits. He says it’s those unproven claims that could get the company into trouble in states working to regulate the cannabis industry.

“Just looking at the alcohol industry — there are express prohibitions of any alcohol products labeling themselves as being helpful. The closest that has come to that is the wine industry,” which recently has embraced new studies that find a glass a day might be beneficial, he said.

And there are other potential issues. First if Marley Natural wants to be a recognized, secure brand, it will have to apply for a trademark. That won’t be a problem for its creams and vaporizers, but a federal trademark for its marijuana strain is impossible to get because the drug still is considered a Class I illegal substance. It may be possible for the brand to get individual trademarks in the states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana.

Then there is the concern of the patent. It’s unclear whether the strain the Marley family is distributing is a unique strain or just specifically chosen. If it is genetically unlike the natural marijuana plant that grows wild, it’s possible that the company could apply for a plant or utility patent.

But then there’s the question of whether a federally illegal substance can qualify for a patent. Lawyers are spilt as to whether it can be done. A patent for cannabis has never been passed and the process for getting one can take up to four years, according to Steve Anderson, a lawyer at Gray Robinson. But without a patent the company would risk having its strain duplicated by other growers.

Then again Marley’s name and reputation might be strong enough to secure a market on its own. As Marley once said, “If you don’t start somewhere, you’re gonna go nowhere.”

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