NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 13th of September, 2018.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
You’ve heard of the Gold Rush, and now we have the Green Rush. That’s the push to legalize marijuana. Canada’s set to create a legal market for pot nationwide next month. The United States isn’t far behind on the state level, with most of them having legalized medical marijuana, and nine states legalizing recreational use.
EICHER: Jim Long leads WORLD’s investigative journalism team.
He’s produced a detailed series on marijuana legalization. Today we talk about how Big Tobacco companies are jumping into the business.
REICHARD: Jim, big tobacco used to have very little interest in marijuana- or at least seemed to- as a market. What changed?
JIM LONG, REPORTER: Yeah, you know, the keyword there, Mary, is they seemed to have little interest. The problem is, we had researchers at the University of San Francisco, they found documents going back to 1969 showing that all the majors—Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds—they had all considered making cigarettes with pot dating back to ‘69.
So the longtime interest has really been there, but they’ve been laying low for two reasons. First, was the war on drugs and that started back in ‘69. The second reason they’re laying low is really the negative press they’ve received for their marketing strategies and campaigns with tobacco.
But two other things have changed: first, the cigarette market has dwindled and, two, there’s been a growing social acceptance of marijuana for both medical and recreational use. So, today there’s only 1 in 5 Americans that smokes cigarettes. In fact, in 1982, there were 179,000 tobacco farms. In 2012, 10,000. That’s a 95 percent drop in farms.
Now, in terms of approval, today 9 in 10 U.S. voters—that’s 95 percent—approve the prescribed medical use of marijuana… As far as recreational use, the majority of Americans approve it. And here’s an interesting statistic: Today, over 1 out of 10 Americans is a marijuana user. That’s 13 percent of the U.S. population. So, big tobacco’s looking at this and, like a young Bob Dylan would say with some type of cigarette dangling from his lips, the times, they are a’changin’.
REICHARD: Indeed they are. What evidence do you have, Jim, that big tobacco is serious about jumping into this market?
LONG: Well, you can look at just a few of the big four. For instance, Philip Morris rebranded itself as Altria, right? They took legal action to secure the following domain names—listen to these names: altriacannabis.com, altriamarijuana.com, and marlboroweed.com. Then, in 2014, they purchased the Florida-based company Green Smoke and that’s a company that sells e-cigarettes with menthol cartridges. Pot users prefer menthol cartridges because they have a cooling effect that counters the throat dryness that’s caused by inhaling marijuana smoke.
Then, look at what they did one year later: the Altria subsidiary of Philip Morris International Switzerland files a patent for growing genetically modified marijuana plants with increased oils which are tied to better flavors and enhanced highs. Then, in January of this year, Altria drops $20 million to invest in Sique Medical, that’s an Israeli manufacturer of 3D printed metered dose cannabis inhalers.
Then flash forward to this election cycle where Altria has donated $4,011 to Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana who, this year, this election cycle, introduced the Veterans Administration Medical Cannabis Act of 2018 which will explore the use of—quote—”certain forms of cannabis and cannabis delivery to treat veterans dealing with chronic pain or post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
So, if Altria eventually becomes a leading marketing provider of cannabis inhalers and cannabis, it’s going to be a complete marketing makeover for them. So, they become transformed from this vilified, heartless corporate giant that produced a deadly, addictive product that killed so many, to the sort of quasi-health provider of medical equipment that helps treat and heals our nation’s war heros. I mean, that’s a remarkable transformation.
REICHARD: Yeah, that is remarkable. But what can you tell us about changes in how people take in THC, the chemical that creates a high?
LONG: Yeah, the short answer will be primarily through edibles and that would include drinkables and then probably the secondary market will be vaping, which is more relevant to big tobacco.
REICHARD: And then how are politics involved with all of this?
LONG: Yeah, as you can see with everything going towards edibles, big tobacco’s pretty much left with the vaping market and you can see that with their lobbying efforts. And you can see that, for instance, with Altria. They spent $10.3 million in lobbying efforts last year. One of the bills it pushed was HR 1136. That would stop the FDA from “making it more difficult for vapor products to come to market than cigarettes.”
Then you have RJ Reynolds. They spent over $2 million in lobbying. They pressed for HR 2194 – that is the Cigarette Smoking Reduction and Electronic Vapor Alternatives Act. That would specifically exclude an e-liquid and a personal electronic vaporizer from the statutory definition of tobacco product and that would also lessen the FDA’s control for regulatory measures. So, you see basically big tobacco lobbying to just get FDA control away from vaping products and oils.
REICHARD: Well, Jim, what is next in this series?
LONG: Yeah, we’re going to begin wrapping up the series by just taking a look at big politics—who exactly is driving this, how and why. And even some of the causes that haven’t been counted as the nation continues to get sucked into the green rush.
REICHARD: Jim Long’s article is in the current issue of WORLD Magazine. Jim, thanks so much for these stories.
LONG: Hey, thank you and thanks for having me.
(Photo illustration by Krieg Barrie)