It's easy to undestand why one of our favorite artists and public figures, Damian Marley, has made such a strong impact on the entire world. The renowned lyricist  is the youngest son of Jamaican Reggae legend Bob Marley. The famous rapper and DJ discussed spirituality, social justice, cannabis and his role at Last Prisoner Project.

"I Am 'Jr. Gong'"

Damian Marley by Nabil

It’s not every day or ever, really, that you meet someone whose work you can follow for their entire life. Most people crash and burn when they find early stardom, but Damian Marley, it seems, has found a way to always stay ‘slick.’

Damian’s entire family is prolific, his brothers, sisters, and parents. But to me and most of the Honeysuckle staff, Damian has always stood out.

We saw him perform with his family at Kaya Fest in 2018, the first time in a decade all the Marley siblings had appeared onstage together, and have written about his distinctive place in music in past issues. Yet weaving throughout his entire career, and his natural way of life, is cannabis.

While the Marley Family in general has been lauded for bringing greater awareness to international cannabis consumption through various brands and projects, Damian has struck a particular note for social justice in partnering with the California-based company Ocean Grown Extracts. The family-owned business, co-founded by Damian’s long-time manager Dan Dalton with siblings Casey and Kelly, operates on 24 acres of land in the city of Coalinga, including a 77,000 square-foot facility that was formerly a prison.

Damian Marley by Nabil

“I just think he’s brilliant,” Dan says of Damian. “So well thought out, so talented, an incredible lyricist and producer. I think his approach to music [and cannabis, and life] is so authentic, no bullshit. It’s all for the right reasons. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

In 2019 Ocean Grown launched the brand Evidence, which donates proceeds from each bag of flower sold to the restorative justice nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP). Damian and Dan both sit on LPP’s advisory board, alongside numerous influencers in the cannabis space such as the organization’s founders Steve and Andrew DeAngelo, actor Jim Belushi, and musician Melissa Etheridge.

After a long public silence during 2020, it seems Damian is now blazing all his fires. He sat down for a phone chat to discuss his next big moves, which include developing the brand HURB with Dan and global cannabis pioneer Berner, new music that pays homage to Jamaica’s legacy of reggae and dancehall genres, and the many ways that life is a circle.

"Jr. Gong" on Covid, Cannabis and Religion in Jamaica

HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: How have you been throughout the pandemic? You took a break from social media for several months.

DAMIAN MARLEY: Yeah, because of lockdown, we are like everyone else basically, taking it easy and I need some time to just be at home and self reflect a bit. Honestly, I’ve been in Miami throughout the whole ordeal, since February of 2020. Which is the first time since I was 17 that I’ve been in one place so long.

But in Jamaica they’ve been having lockdowns where from Saturday until Tuesday, you couldn’t leave your house. And then you’d go out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then for half of the day Saturday. Then Saturday evening, lockdown again. So they just went through about three to four weekends straight of that; they’ve been having major lockdowns there. And of course, the population isn’t anywhere near as vaccinated or likely to take the vaccine as people here. So in the poorer communities it’s been a little bit rough. We don’t have the facilities that you have here when it comes down to hospital beds and such.

If you’re overwhelmed in America, imagine how it is there. They’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t get out of hand, even though it’s already very taxing… It hasn’t really ripped though the population like how it has here, per se. But at the same time, we can’t afford for that to happen. At one point, there were only 20 ventilators on the entire island.

Is there a lot of religious opposition to the vaccines in Jamaica?

Not necessarily religious. I think it’s overall mistrust, not having trust in our government and leaders. Jamaica is a very politically tribal place, so there’s always been a lot of general mistrust of our politicians. You can even hear it in our music... I guess the world in general is very polarized when it comes down to the vaccine. But Jamaica, for the most part, I would say leans toward being not in support of it in terms of the average citizen.

When I was in Jamaica years ago, nearly everybody smoked weed, but the government was very conservative and against it.

Ganja Culture in Jamaica

How does cannabis play a part in the culture today - in wellness,  religious practices, recreation and health?

We’re much more forward thinking now, in line with the rest of the world, or I should say in line with places like California where it’s legal there. Or maybe the word you’d use is decriminalized. I would say it’s legal, because you have legal dispensaries where you can buy herb now. You can smoke recreationally. It’s not so much conservative as it once was. And also, the mere fact that America has opened up to it a lot, Jamaica tends to follow that.

Cannabis is something I use throughout my day. It’s part of my daily maintenance. It’s been a big part of our culture from long before it was anywhere near legal. Yes, it’s been used as a religious sacrament in terms of the Rasta which I’m a part of. Our faith is very health-conscious; we’ve always been advocates of leaning toward a more vegetable-based diet. And just taking care of the temple.

When it comes down to cannabis, we as Rastas have always said that the herb is a healing of the nation. What I’m glad to see now is that with it becoming accepted by society, now we can actually start to do more studies on the actual medical part of it, the science of it all. And that has been showing promise. Actually, Jamaica is not the leader in that by any means either. But even in California and other places where people are getting the chance to do a bit more medical or scientific research on the plants, we get to see that our spiritual inclination was right all along that this plant has great medicinal value.

Social Justice and The Last Prisoner Project

Damian Marley at Evidence photo by B+

You’ve historically discussed social issues in your music. Can you tell us about your work with Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and Evidence?

Well, I’m proud to be a part of the movement. Of course we were obvious advocates that this herb should be free for everyone to use to begin with. So if it’s now becoming free for people to use, it’d only be right that the people who are locked up for it now can be released. Ten years ago, we had people who would never be seen anywhere near a cannabis business, or that industry who are now playing a part in it, and are able to earn money from it.

Yet you have the original people who built and maintained this industry over the years when it was illegal, and a lot of them are still behind bars. All our lives we’re smoking herb. We’re not criminals in any kind of case other than smoking herb. So for us, it’s dear. It’s dear to our hearts. It’s part of our lives, that’s something that we’ve always had to look over our shoulders for, for years, up until now when [it’s becoming legal.

Damian Marley at Evidence by B+

That’s why the work that LPP is doing, the mission to get people free, whether it be through political clout, helping people with lawyer fees, is very important.

LPP is doing wonderful things with its expungement and reentry programs. how does the work you are doing with the Dalton family and Evidence contribute to that?

Whenever you purchase a bag of Evidence, some of the proceeds go to LPP. And we as cannabis consumers have a common set of values. You usually find that there’s a lot of social upliftment thoughts that run within cannabis users. So [I encourage] everyone to check out these different projects that we’ve been working on in the cannabis space where it comes down to that. It goes beyond just smoking and having a good time. There’s a lot of good work being done there, so get yourself up to speed.

Damian Marley and Berner's Cannabis Line: HURB

Berner and Damian Marley, by Nabil

It’s a collaboration between Berner, Ocean Grown Extracts and myself. So Cookies and our side of the team. And it’s trying to bend both of our cultures and backgrounds in this. Everyone knows what Berner stands for in terms of the cannabis industry. I have my own brand of what I stand for, my culture, and where I come from. So we’re trying to find some new similarities and things that we can work on together in that space, with Berner and me as the curators of this new brand.

Berner and Damian Marley, by Nabil

This spring you released your single “Life is a Circle,” which reflects the intertwining legacies of racial politics and environmental justice through the story of Virginia Key, Miami’s first Black-only beach. How were you feeling in terms of your career and creativity, what’s next?

I’ve been in the studio a lot during the pandemic. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening. And you cannot listen if you are speaking, you know what I mean? So I need to center myself and figure out what I want to speak about, and formulate my own opinions about what’s going on. We were speaking about the pandemic; there’s so much information, or misinformation, however you want to see it, out there... I want to be responsible. I don’t want to influence people on something I don’t know about, or I’m not informed about.

However, I have been working on music in the meantime. I have some singles I’m about to release, and hopefully next year we can see a feature length project, all being well. [Right now] I’m sketching out ideas individually. I have a few songs that are love songs, spiritual songs, I have a few songs that are more rebellious.

In terms of a Marley Family group project, we have intentions to want to do that. We’d like to do a Marley Brothers project one day, a full body of work together.

Damain "Jr. Gong" on Family and Fatherhood

Would you be willing to talk about how fatherhood has influenced you?

It’s had a big impact on my life. The responsibility of being a father is huge. I was saying to someone the other day that it makes you really have a different perspective on the whole mortality, at least it did for me. I realize now too that I’ve always been aware of myself being an influence on young people. But when I have someone who’s looking up to me as his superhero directly, who looks like me, it becomes even more sensitive. So I have to be conscious of what I say. In my music, and just even in my normal conversations, especially when he’s listening. It makes you want to ensure that you have some kind of security for your child. You look at things wanting to make sure you set a foundation that your child can come and build upon.

Being from this legendary family of musicians, what do you feel is your place in that legacy? What would you say is your musical mission or your purpose for making music at this point in your life?

Oh, I couldn’t tell you. When I make music, I don’t think about too much that I’m my father’s son. Although as a little boy, I used to always pretend to be my father on stage every night before going to bed… I grew up seeing my bigger brothers and sisters doing music, and looking up to them as my bigger brothers also. But when it came down to me personally being inspired to want to do music, that’s from watching a lot of the 1980s dancehall stars, Shabba Ranks, and Super Cat, and Tiger, and Peter Metro.

When I make music, it’s really just trying to make a song that I like to listen to and that shares my values too. So as long as I’m being true to myself on a song, both in the fact that I like the music and that what I’m saying on the song is also true to myself and my values, then that’s really where it starts. And then the rest of it, well you figure out as you go along.

Reggae Music and Rastafari

Is the music of the generation that inspired you being preserved? Where do you see reggae heading in the future?

When I make music, it’s really just trying to make a song that I like to listen to and that shares my values too. So as long as I’m being true to myself on a song, both in the fact that I like the music and that what I’m saying on the song is also true to myself and my values, then that’s really where it starts. And then the rest of it, well you figure out as you go along.

Is the Rastafari faith is still very present in reggae today?

Damian Marley by Nabil

It’s still very strong. At the moment, I would say maybe our voices aren’t as loud in the music industry as it may have been ten years ago, or whatever the case may be. Music tends to be a cycle like that anyhow. But the faith is still very strong.

We credit the Most High for all inspiration. However it manifests itself through life, we still credit the Most High for all inspiration. But I’m not over here trying to say I’m some kind of chosen one or something like that. I’m just playing my part by being me.

Damian Marley, Nabil and Berner work with EVIDENCE, a family-owned cannabis brand that grows weed out of a prison to help get people out of prison. Evidence donates $1 to the Last Prisoner Project, a social justice non profit dedicated to helping free inmates serving time for cannabis charges.

“We grow weed at a prison to help people get out of prison for growing weed.” The tagline for Evidence, the disruptive California-based cannabis brand, seems to say it all – their plants are raised and processed on the grounds of a 24-acre property that houses a 77,000-square foot former correctional facility in the city of Coalinga. Their products arrive in genuine police evidence bags (hence the name). Their marketing campaigns, shot by renowned photographer Nabil Elderkin (whose famous works include collaborations with Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa, and Gary Clark Jr. to name a few), cause a stir among store owners who want cannabis to be rebranded for the “soccer mom” crowd. But beneath Evidence’s unapologetic nature lies a powerful message: The War on Drugs remains strong, and we can’t stop fighting for cannabis justice until every last prisoner is free.

Founded by siblings Casey, Dan and Kelly Dalton, just in time for Juneteenth and the 50th anniversary of the War on Drugs; Evidence was born from their family business Ocean Grown Extracts, so named for the first strain Kelly cultivated as a legacy grower in the San Fernando Valley. When California passed its Proposition 64 to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2016, Casey saw an opportunity for Kelly to be licensed and escape the numerous arrests plaguing cultivators who were operating in the state’s grey market. She used her licensing expertise (having owned preschools for 20 years) to scout municipalities and properties amenable to the cannabis industry, finding the perfect setup in Coalinga.

For more on Evidence, click here.


Check out  previous coverage on Damian Marley here and here:

Our playlist featuring songs from Damian Marley and artists from our FREEDOM issue mp3 download here: