Big Tobacco Is Already Eyeing Pot

Cigarette manufacturers seem to be poised to get into the marijuana industry — as soon as it’s federally OK

According to cannabis industry experts, it’s very likely that the country’s largest tobacco companies will get into the marijuana business, in some way, when it is possible. The question becomes how much control these corporate giants will have over the industry, what they will do to marijuana products and how these changes will occur.

For decades, companies like Phillip Morris have wanted to get in on the marijuana action. According to once-secret documents obtained through a lawsuit from tobacco industry leaders in 2014, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco and other large tobacco companies were making plans to enter the marijuana industry as far back as the 1970s. This was shortly before cannabis became illegal on the federal level, and for a moment there, some tobacco company heads thought it might be legalized.

“While I am opposed to its use, I recognize that it may be legalized in the near future,” then-Philip Morris President George Weissman wrote in a memo in 1970. “Thus, with these great auspices, we should be in a position to examine: 1. A potential competition, 2. A possible product, 3. At this time, cooperate with the government.”

Forty years later, nine states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized cannabis, and the tobacco companies have been aware of how the industry is taking shape. However, the tobacco industry is risk-averse because of its history with battling the U.S. government, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who helped release the tobacco industry documents that were published in 2014. Back in 1998, the U.S. government and five major tobacco companies signed onto what was called the Master Settlement Agreement, which meant the tobacco companies had to pay states billions of dollars a year to cover costs related to the health effects of smoking, because the public had been misled about them.

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