Maybe you’ve noticed that some of your favorite celebrities have gotten involved in the cannabis biz. These celebrities—instead of playing pretend on the story box, or singing nice songs for you to listen to, or doing professional things with a sportsball—are pushing cannabis in its many forms, involving themselves in marketing, endorsements, activism, and more.
There are the obvious ones, like Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg, who have potentially consumed hundreds of pounds of cannabis over the decades. (No one has ever said, “I was not aware that Messrs. Nelson and Dogg enjoyed partaking of the pot weed. This is new and shocking information.”) Both have made cannabis part of their brands over the years, and lent their name to different cannabis endeavors, such as websites, strains of weed, and vape cartridges.
But perhaps the foremost name associated with cannabis is one who’s no longer with us: Bob Marley. Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, and his 11 children formed Marley Natural, which is backed by investment group Privateer Holdings, who have raised $200 million for the brand. Privateer Holdings CEO Brendan Kennedy has even been quoted saying, “Bob Marley is more closely tied to the product than anyone we could think of. In some places people even say, ‘Let’s go smoke a Bob Marley.’” (No, “they” do not, Brendan. No one wants to get high with someone who says that.)
And the phrase “closely tied to the product” is telling. Not “weed” or “marijuana” or “cannabis”—he said the “product.” A lot of celebrities get involved in cannabis businesses because the high it provides is strictly in terms of return on investment.
This includes the man whom Metalblast wrote a fascinating think-piece on called “Top 5 Reasons Why Gene Simmons Is a Piece of Shit.” The frontman clown of KISS has invested $10 million into Invicutus, a Canadian cannabis producer. Yet Simmons admits he has never smoked pot, and told CNN Money, “I’ve got $10 million wrapped up in the stock because I believe in it. For me, it’s a business move.” Is someone who’s never smoked cannabis someone I ever need to hear from? Nope.
This isn’t to say that celebrities shouldn’t profit from the recreational cannabis industry, which many believe is poised for national legalization. Tommy Chong is as synonymous as anyone with pot, and has proven himself to be more than just a stoner archetype. In 2003, Chong was sentenced to nine months in federal prison, fined $20,000, and forfeited more than $100,000. His sole “crime” was selling 7,500 bongs and pipes from his website Nice Dreams.
Chong did time for selling bongs, and yet he didn’t turn his back on weed. Chong, whose album and film work is the precursor to all stoner comedy of the past 45 years, credits cannabis for curing his cancer, and his brand of herb, Chong’s Choice, is further evidence he’s a true OG for the cause—and a person far more deserving of support than someone like Simmons. (Plus, KISS sucks.)
Athletes who’ve used cannabis during and after their careers have also come on board. Al Harrington played 16 seasons in the NBA, and became a cannabis convert after a botched knee surgery. He started Viola, a vape cartridge and extract company that’s carried in several states. Mike Tyson, meanwhile, recently broke ground on a 40-acre “cannabis resort” in the California desert, including 20 acres of cultivation, an edibles factory, and an amphitheater.
A lack of capital and loans via traditional banking systems limits options for cannabis businesses. Partnering with a celebrity, and the deep-pocketed partners who come with them, can give a much-needed boost to a new cannabis brand. But providing easier access to capital would allow craft cannabis businesses to stay independent while expanding their operations.
The people who produce the best cannabis usually aren’t public figures. Let’s hope there will soon come a time when our best growers and cultivators are recognized alongside other agricultural-based superstars such as chefs, brewers, and vintners, and as celebrities in their own right. Part of the normalization of cannabis means acknowledging that the people growing and processing the weed you enjoy are just as worthy of attention as a former sitcom star, musician, or athlete—perhaps even more so.