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Celebrities launch marijuana brands

By PAUL ELIAS Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Country singer Willie Nelson, the children of the late reggae icon Bob Marley and comedian Whoopi Goldberg are just a few of the growing number of celebrities publicly jumping into the marijuana industry and eyeing the California pot market, which is expected to explode after voters legalized the recreational use of weed.

Regulators are still scrambling to get California's recreational pot market launched and are racing to issue licenses to growers and sellers by early 2018. Still to be decided is who will receive the first licenses to grow, distribute and sell recreational marijuana.

Growers already cleared to sell medical marijuana in California could be the first in line.

Analysts say brands already established in legal medical marijuana dispensaries -- including celebrities who partner with approved California growers -- will have a leg up when the first licenses are issued. Several pot-loving celebrities are in prime positions because of their fame and backstory with the drug, including Marley's children.

The late Jamaican singer was at the vanguard of the global legalization movement.

Backed by a Seattle venture capital firm, Marley's oldest daughter launched Marley Natural in 2014. Cedella Marley says California is now the world's largest legal cannabis market since voters approved Proposition 64 in November. Marley Natural products already are available in California medical dispensaries.

There is enormous opportunity for growth in the state, Cedella Marley said in an email interview. "It also carries enormous cultural significance and influence, so it will be an important place to help people understand the herb the way my dad enjoyed it," she said.

Bob Marley's youngest son, Damian Marley, runs a competing operation, Stony Hill, and recently joined with another weed company to buy a vacant 77,000-square-foot prison for $4.1 million in Coalinga, in California's Central Valley. They turned it into a marijuana factory.

All uses of pot remain illegal under federal law, keeping most banks and Wall Street companies out of an industry that could grow from $6 billion to $50 billion in the next decade, according to the financial services firm Cowen & Co.

Nonetheless, Wall Street has taken notice. Beer and spirit companies have warned investors that legal weed could threaten profits.

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