Stephen Marley Wants to Smoke and Groove with You

By David Jenison on February 5, 2018

Bob and Rita Marley's second son, Stephen, entered this world on April 20 around the same time the 420 code first came into existence. Stephen went on to win eight Grammy trophies and become a major cannabis advocate. Last year, he decided to infuse his 420 birthday party with a purpose, launching the Kaya Fest in downtown Miami with the theme "education before recreation." Kaya Fest returns for a second year on April 28 and 29. PRØHBTD spoke with Marley to learn more. 

What is the most important use of the plant for you personally?

The medicinal aspect of the plant is, I think, the most important aspect of it to me. Without health we have nothing, you know?

Florida passed the medical marijuana amendment in November 2016, but the state legislature in Tallahassee did everything it can to undermine the law. Since the festival you started takes place in Florida, do you use it to encourage activism? 

Yeah, I ask people to be active and let their voices be heard advocating for the use of the plant. We want our voices to be heard that this plant has so many benefits and we don't know why it is being subjugated. 

In 2017, Kaya Fest featured the Marley Brothers with yourself, Ziggy, Damian, Ky-Mani and others. How often does the family perform together?

Completely... not very often. We performed in 2004 and again in Ethiopia in 2006, but it had been more than 20 years since all of us performed together in the same set and on the same stage in Florida. 

When you have everybody together, how is it different than if, say, you did a show by yourself or just with Ziggy?

Well, when we come together, we definitely play a tribute to our dad. We're strong on the Bob sons and brothers, and we will play a tribute to that era, and then we'll just kind of break off. Also, some of our own sons that are well-known will get up and that fits the occasion, you know?

Was there a specific experience or moment that inspired you to create Kaya Fest?

Well, I'll tell you the truth, 4/20 is my birthday, so it kind of started with the idea that let's get the clan to come together on my birthday. It just made sense to have a celebration. Of course, it makes sense. It's my birthday. So that was the initial inspiration behind music and herb, but then I got more serious about doing it. Definitely, I did not want to have a smoke contest. Let me say, it's really about the respect of this plant, and I don't think a lot of people realize the many different purposes and benefits of it. A lot of people thinks it's just smoking, and that's not so. It's not about smoking bongs. The plant has so many different great benefits, so I decided to do it on a serious note. Let's do it in a way that empowers the cause.

Some people use the plant for recreational, some people use it for medical, but I imagine you also use it as a spiritual sacrament. How would you describe the spiritual element of ganja?

Well, the spiritual element of the herb is within your top presence. Like my father said, "Herbs helps you reveal yourself to you." It puts you in that state of consciousness where you think more positive things. It definitely elevates your spirit. We smoke herb as a religion. Our father would go to smoke herb and sit together. We'll sit down and sing songs of redemption or songs of bliss or read the bible as some spiritual uplifting conversations happen. That's how we grow up with plant, from my grandparents to my parents to our time now. So that is the sacrament part of it. 

You live in Miami now, but you were raised in Kingston. Most people don't realize that Jamaica had strict cannabis laws, but the country decriminalized the plant. Were you surprised, and how has that changed life in Jamaica?

Was I surprised? No. I mean, I just talked to our agent and said, "One day." But I'm definitely pleased that it happened in my time, and I'm more positive there ain't no crime in the streets. Some of 'em don't start dealing now. "I gone. I'm not part of this thing," they say. 

Nationwide and globally, there's a lot of movement towards legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. Do you think your father expected this to happen earlier? Do you think he would be surprised that it's happening now? 

If he was still here, I think it would have happened already. That's what I really believe. If he was here physically, it would have happened a long time ago. 

That's a great answer. So you think he expected that legalization would happen sooner rather than later?

Yeah. I definitely believe so. And that's why he was such a strong advocate for the plant. 

Your last two albums were Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life and Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life. The second album had a lot of guest artists on it. Was there a reason to make it a more collaborative effort?

Yes. Part one was my original root, my foundation, and then the fruit is the offspring of theroots. It was really meant to be a collaboration effort. It was meant to be a wide variety of influences. Both were music that reggae music influenced, like hip-hop, and some of it is music that influenced reggae, like jazz, and there is even some big band music in there that was a good influence on Jamaican music back in the 1960s. It was meant to be a diverse record and that sense.

Five years passed between the two albums. Do you not like to release albums, or do you just like to take your time making them? 

Part one was so loved by both new fans and my core audience that I kept touring on it. For part two, a lot of it was getting everybody's schedule together and bringing the record together. And we just took our time as well. 

Marley Natural is now a major cannabis brand. What are your thoughts on the products, and do you have a favorite? 

It is a culture-based brand with herb, and we're very proud of that. As advocates, it is a part of our advocation and our stance, and for sure we're about this. Definitely we're proud of our brand. You know what I mean? The indica strain is the strain I like the best.

If people have a medical marijuana prescription, are they able to smoke at the festival?

No. No. Shh. Shh. You understand? 

Okay, that was a bad question.

That is a natural part of the gathering. We're not emphasizing that. It doesn't need to be emphasized. Anywhere we gather in general as Marleys and reggae music we have a lot of that that. We don't have the mention it.

Any last comments? 

We look forward to bringing this whole consciousness about the plant. Education before recreation.

David Jenison ( is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photos by WonderKnack.

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