Howard Marks made his name in the illicit drugs trade but the late drugs baron is making a posthumous comeback to cash in on a booming legal trade in cannabis-related products.
Borrowing his most famous alias, the first Mr Nice store opened in London’s Soho district on Thursday, selling everything from upmarket bath bombs and face creams to hoodies inspired by Britain’s best-known drug smuggler.
Mr Nice bills itself as a “modern cannabis destination” that sells “carefully curated cannabis accessories from around the world”.
Xan Morgan, the chief executive of Equinox International, the international cannabis company behind the venture, plans to launch 10 Mr Nice stores across the UK.
He said: “We are the first cannabis lifestyle shop. We are selling clothes and products that celebrate the positive side of cannabis culture.”
Companies big and small are looking at cashing in on the the buzz around CBD, or cannabidiol, which is one of the scores of chemicals, known as cannabinoids, produced by the cannabis plant.
Amid an explosion in new products coming on the market, sales of CBD oil and CBD-infused products are already thought to be close to €1bn a year in Europe.
Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, CBD does not get users high, making it the most promising compound from a marketing perspective.
As a result, the ingredient is being added to everything from toiletries to cocktails. It was recently billed in the lifestyle press as the “hottest new wellness trend”.
Optimism about future sales if countries continue to liberalise their legal stance – last year Canada legalised the sale of all recreational cannabis – has seen the value of listed cannabis companies soar.
The excitement around the potential for CBD has been most notable in the food and drink sectors, with Coca-Cola revealing last year that it was it looking at developing a range of cannabis-infused beverages to help ease physical problems such as inflammation, pain and cramps.
Other firms looking for a piece of the action include the Corona beer maker Constellation Brands, which has invested in the Canadian cannabis group Canopy Growth, while Diageo, the drinks giant behind Guinness and Johnny Walker whisky, is also reported to be exploring investment opportunities in the sector.
Alex Brooks, an analyst with Canada-based Canaccord Genuity, said there had been “striking growth” in demand for CBD products, which he estimated had generated €750-€1bn in retail sales in Europe last year.
“The availability of CBD products continues to improve, with UK pharmacies and health stores now routinely stocking a wide range of CBD oils,” said Brooks. “Our regular visits to Holland & Barrett around London indicate that the Jacob Hooy CBD brand stocked there is regularly sold out.”
Mr Nice has the blessing of Marks’s daughter Amber Marks. The range includes handmade chillum pipes costing £180 as well as £70 bottles of organic CBD oil.
The clothing range includes an £80 short-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a marijuana leaf print – based on one Marks was pictured wearing in Ibiza in the 1990s – and hoodies with secret pockets to stash drugs in.
Morgan, who is a scion of the family behind the still British-owned Morgan Motor Company, said its organic CBD oil “passes the Ronseal test”, adding: “We are just starting to understand the role that cannabis can play in society.”
He would like to see cannibis use legalised in the UK and points to a black market estimated to be worth £8bn annually as evidence of a huge market for Mr Nice’s products: “That tells you the scale of cannabis use and that there is a thriving cannabis culture.”
Prohibition Partners, a cannabis industry research firm, thinks the global cannabis market could be worth up to €200bn annually by 2028 if countries continue to legalise medical and recreational cannabis.
Within that timeframe it estimates the UK market would be worth €18.4bn, with the bulk of that value coming from the recreational market, which it puts at €9.6bn.
Prohibition Partners’ Eoin Keenan said that cannabis products were increasingly becoming part of the mainstream. “The UK is a relatively slow mover in the grand scheme of the international cannabis market but CBD is entering the mainstream here with products retailing at Holland & Barrett, Sainsbury’s and Planet Organic.”