Marijuana prison venture is Damian Marley’s vision for economic growth. Or another positive to come out of legalisation!
Reggae superstar Bob Marley liked to say that “herb is the healing of the nation”. Now his youngest son, Damian Marley, is putting that claim to the test with a marijuana venture that promises to transform a decaying California prison into a huge medical marijuana manufacturing plant.
It also promises to revitalize a depressed rural town that long depended on a prison economy, but is now turning to pot.
“It’s a statement,” Marley told the Guardian, “to grow herb in a place that used to contain prisoners locked up for herb.”
The business venture signals a growing confidence in the cannabis industry, which has been rapidly spreading across the country as a result of state referendums that are legalizing medical or recreational marijuana.
California, the first state in the US to approve medical marijuana in 1996, appears to be on the cusp of voting for full recreational legalization in a referendum in November. California officials want to ensure that those once punished over harsh weed laws aren’t overrun by wealthy entrepreneurs once it’s legalized recreationally
Recreational weed is already legal in Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska, but California’s referendum is potentially hugely significant, opening up a new market in an economy that this week overtook the UK to become the fifth largest in the world.
It also comes as American politicians are working to roll back tough-on-crime policies that have for decades forced low-level drug offenders to serve lengthy sentences for nonviolent actions. Against this backdrop, Marley’s project has emerged as a potent symbol of shifting views on pot and incarceration in American society.
The empty prison in Coalinga, California, has remained frozen in time since its closure in 2011. Behind the heavy doors of the solitary prison cells are small metal bed frames, thin mattresses, steel toilet bowls, and old shoes of inmates past. Casey Dalton, co-owner of Ocean Grown Extracts, the company behind Marley’s project, toured the former prison with the Guardian.
The old dining room, she said, will be used for cannabis oil refinement and large dorm halls will be converted to plant cultivation centers.
Ocean Grown, which is manufacturing Marley’s new “Speak Life” cannabis products, will use the facility to sell products wholesale to dispensaries. Other rooms in the 77,000-square-foot facility eventually will be used for transportation, distribution, and testing operations. “This is a different kind of rehabilitation,” she said.
“Jails aren’t really rehabilitating people. They’re developing young criminals into more experienced criminals,” said Marley, who is also a world-renowned reggae artist. He said the marijuana factory would turn “a negative place with a negative vibe into something positive”.
Dan Dalton, Marley’s manager and Casey Dalton’s brother, said he also hoped the public would view the Coalinga project as a kind of protest of the criminal justice system. “This is symbolic and a big middle finger to the drug war and to a broken system that hasn’t worked for a long time now,” he said.