Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Are the Marleys high?

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Shame on family for peddling patriarch as brand

Steve Heilig, Guest Columnist

Dear Rita, Cedella, and Rohan Marley:

Congratulations on last week's very visible launch of your forthcoming Marley Natural brand of marijuana. As no doubt intended, you received worldwide media coverage.

But I am also compelled to ask: Have you no shame?

Don't get me wrong. As a longtime reggae fanatic and journalist, I have long revered Bob Marley's music and messages. I went to his concerts and even met him once - where I was in awe of his presence. The BEAT magazine, a leading world music journal and my primary publisher for many years, devoted entire issues to him every year.

Collectively, we, too, loved the man. And as for cannabis, I, too, favour legalisation and have even contributed to major medical policy papers advocating that - if carefully done.

But contrary to what Cedella has told the press, Bob Marley is not a brand. The businessmen you have partnered with to sell cannabis make no bones about their motivations - money, and money only. They are what Bob Marley referred to as "pure Babylon".

As you know, herb to him was a sacrament, not just another product to be marketed for profit by capitalists. Anti-herb drug warriors are already using your product launch as an example of Big Cannabis practices that will prove that marijuana should remain illegal. I strongly believe that rather than smiling about this latest attempt to cash in on his image, your father/husband is spinning in his grave.

Letter to Bob

You may have a way to redeem this looming debacle, however. Back in 2005, Stephen Davis, who knew Bob Marley and wrote one of the best books about him, penned a scathing open letter to him in The BEAT magazine. Davis lamented the infighting, greed, and scandal that ensued among your family after his death, and asked, very pointedly:

"Where is the Bob Marley Hospital for the Poor that should be operating in Spanish Town? Where is the Bob Marley Orphanage that should be the pride of St Ann's Bay? What about the Bob Marley Home for the Aged in Negril, or the Bob Marley Early Childcare Centre in Sligoville and Port Antonio? These non-existent institutions don't exist because your family has other priorities, which seem to be mostly themselves."

So here is your challenge, and your opportunity - which should be a relatively easy one to fulfil, as I very much doubt any of you are truly in need of more money. I note that there is a Healing of the Nation page on your new product website - which is so far blank. If you will now make a public, binding pledge to devote all profits from Marley cannabis to an independent, audited foundation that will provide the sort of essential human services Davis proposed, Bob Marley might indeed smile from beyond. Otherwise, many of us who remember his message will continue to believe that his family is defiling his memory.

And finally, in the same edition of the magazine where Mr Davis' open letter appeared, there was a 1936 speech by Emperor Haile Selassie, whom Bob Marley himself revered, of course. Its title: 'God and history will remember your judgment'. I humbly suggest you think about that before you attempt to cash in again on the name you have been so fortunate to inherit.

Steve Heilig is a health-care ethicist and ethnomusicologist based in San Francisco and Marin. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and heilig@sfms.org.