Cannabis

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The tobacco industry has long-standing interest in cannabis as a potential product. Internal industry documents reveal that since 1970, Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and RJ Reynolds (now owned by BAT) have been interested in commercial cannabis manufacture.1

In a 1970 memo on cannabis, George Weissman, President of Philip Morris wrote: “While I am opposed to its use, I recognize that it may be legalized in the near future[…] 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.”2   

Cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation has become more prevalent in recent years.3 In the US, where recreational cannabis is now legal in 11 states,4 tobacco companies have leant their support to pro-cannabis groups lobbying for legalisation.5

With falling cigarette sales in developed markets, and the relaxation of cannabis laws, there is an increased “legal demand” for cannabis products.6 This is an opportunity for tobacco companies to invest in a market worth an estimated US$200 billion worldwide (Euromonitor data).7 There are several reasons for tobacco companies’ interest: the functional similarities of cannabis production; its use with tobacco in roll-your-own (RYO) cigarettes; the ability to extract its active ingredients (tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)) for use in e-cigarettes; and its medicinal potential.8 The tobacco industry is keen to promote its associations with harm reduction and pharmaceuticals over combustible cigarettes and cannabis offers an opportunity to do so.

Transnational Tobacco Company Investments in Cannabis

Philip Morris International

In 2016, PMI invested US$20 million in Syqe Medical, an Israeli company developing a medical cannabis inhaler. This was the second largest cannabis investment in 2016.9 PMI has not publicly spoken about the investment.

Altria

In December 2017, Altria made an investment of US$1.8 billion for 45% of Cronos Group, a Canadian cannabis company.10 In its 2020 “10 Year Vision”, Altria said it wants to “Help position Cronos as a leader in a highly responsible, regulated and legalized U.S. cannabis market.”11 However, in November 2019 Altria declared its investment had reduced in value by US$731 million, because of the complicated regulatory procedures surrounding cannabis products.12

Imperial Brands

In June 2018, Imperial Brands invested in UK based Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, a biotech company researching medicinal cannabis. Imperial said its investment would give it “a deeper understanding of the medical cannabis market.”13 As of November 2020, the size of investment is unknown. In 2019, Imperial increased their stake in the cannabis market, investing GB£75 million in Auxly, a Canadian “global leader in branded cannabis products”.14 Imperial described the move as an expansion of their next generation product portfolio.15

British American Tobacco

BAT has been researching the use of CBD and THC flavourings for their Vype and Vuse e-cigarettes at their research facility in Southampton, but not “actively pursuing” these flavours for sale, according to BAT’s head of reduced risk substantiation, Allen Griffiths.16

Tobacco staff migration

Several tobacco company employees and people associated with the tobacco industry have been taking roles in the growing cannabis industry. 

  • In 2020, Boldt Runners Corp., seller of Cannadips CBD pouches (similar to snus-style nicotine pouches), appointed former Altria executives Peter Diatelevi and Maura Scott as CEO17 and CSO respectively.18
  • Taat Lifestyle and Wellness, producer of the ‘Beyond Tobacco’ hemp cigarette (not yet launched as of October 2020), appointed former PMI commercialization executive Tim Corkum as Chief Revenue Officer in 2020.19
  • PharmaCielo, a Canadian cannabis oil company with operations in Colombia, has a number of tobacco industry executives, and industry-linked scientists, on its Board of Directors. These include:

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources

References

  1. R.A. Barry, H. Hiilamo, S.A. Glantz. Waiting for the opportune moment: the tobacco industry and marijuana legalization. Milbank Q. 2014;92(2):207-242. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.12055
  2. G. Weissman, Unknown, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, February 1970, znpy0002
  3. J. Collins, Why are so many countries now saying cannabis is OK?, BBC News, 11 December 2018, accessed November 2020
  4. NORML.org website, Cannabis State Laws, NORML¸ accessed November 2020
  5. K.A. Sabet, Marijuana Lobby Admits Tobacco Industry Executives Pay-to-Play, Huffington Post, 6 June 2017, accessed November 2020
  6. A. Konrad, Legal Marijuana Co. Privateer Holdings Scores Millions From Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Forbes, 8 January 2015, accessed November 2020
  7. S. MacGuill, Legal Cannabis: The Billion Dollar Market Set to Disrupt Consumer Goods, Euromonitor, 6 June 2019, accessed November 2020
  8. R. Pollock, Three Biggest Reasons Tobacco Giants Eye Lucrative $50 Billion Marijuana Market, The Daily Caller, 1 April 2016, accessed November 2020
  9. S. Solomon, Philip Morris investment in Syqe was 2nd-largest 2016 cannabis deal – report, The Times of Israel, 9 January 2018, accessed November 2020
  10. J. Warner, Vaping or cannabis: where’s the growth for Big Tobacco?, IG, 17 February 2020, accessed November 2020
  11. Altria, Our 10-Year Vision, Altria website, May 2020, accessed November 2020
  12. S. Williams, Here’s How Much Altria Has Lost on Its Cronos Investment, The Motley Fool, 29 November 2019, accessed November 2020
  13. Tobacco giant Imperial Brands invests in medical cannabis, BBC News, 28 June 2018, accessed November 2020
  14. This is Auxly, Auxly website, accessed November 2020
  15. Imperial Brands PLC, Imperial Brands PLC Diversifies Next Generation Product Portfolio to Provide Further Options for Future Growth, Imperial Brands website, 25 July 2019, accessed November 2020
  16. Press association, British American Tobacco looking into cannabis vape flavours, This is Money, 10 February 2020, accessed November 2020
  17. Boldt Runners Corporation, Cannadips CBD Secures Funding and Announces Former Altria Senior Executive, Peter Diatelevi, as New CEO, Cision PR Newswire, 18 August 2020, accessed November 2020
  18. T. Edward, CBD Company Boldt Runners Corp. Brings Former Tobacco Executive To Their Team, High Times, 1 September 2020, accessed November 2020
  19. TAAT Lifestyle & Wellness Ltd., “Going Beyond”: Seasoned Ex-Philip Morris Commercialization Executive Tim Corkum Appointed Chief Revenue Officer of Taat, GlobalNewswire, 21 August 2020, accessed November 2020
  20. PharmaCielo, UK Tobacco Giant Gets Medicinal Cannabis Expertise, 13 June 2017, accessed April 2019
  21. Imperial Brands, Simon Langelier: Non-Executive Director, undated, accessed April 2019
  22. PharmaCielo, Global Business Executive Joins PharmaCielo Ltd. Board of Directors, PharmaCielo website, 10 April 2017, accessed April 2019
  23. PharmaCielo, Matteo Pellegrini, Director, undated, accessed April 2019
  24. PharmaCielo, PharmaCielo Ltd. Appoints Medical & Scientific Advisory Board, 30 November 2016, accessed April 2019
  25. PharmaCielo, PharmaCielo Appoints New and Extended Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, 9 April 2019, accessed April 2019