Altria’s billion-dollar investment in the cannabis industry has most likely set a precedent.
Medical cannabis in the United States of America was first legalized in the state of California in 1996. Since then, multiple states followed that path as well by legalizing cannabis both medically and recreationally. As more states would authorize medical and recreational uses of marijuana, some people might have speculated about what would the Big Tobacco companies do. One speculation was that those Big Tobacco companies would have seen the cannabis industry as a competitor to their tobacco products, and thus, taking steps towards lobbying to prevent the legalization of cannabis. Another speculation was that Big Tobacco companies would want to be involved and merge in the Cannabis Industry directly.
This past October’s legalization of cannabis in Canada suggests that Big Tobacco companies have taken steps toward the recent speculation. Last month, Altria—the parent company of Marlboro-maker Philip Morris—invested $1.8 billion towards a 45-percent stake in Cronos Group, a cannabis company located in Toronto.
Altria’s investment follows prior mega-investments by tobacco companies around the world. In the United Kingdom, the tobacco titan Imperial Brands invested $10 million with Casa Verde—a cannabis investment firm founded by rapper Snoop Dogg—on the British research outfit Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies. Both this and Altria’s deals, however, pale in comparison to the $4 billion-dollar investment by Constellation Brands (the parent of the beer company Corona) for a 38-percent stake of Canada’s biggest medical cannabis producer Canopy Growth.
These recent mega-investments in Canadian cannabis companies might most likely lead to profitable opportunities; however, there might be further motives as well for the involvement of tobacco companies in the cannabis industry.
Statistically, the rate of adults in the United States who smoke has fallen by about 35 percent in the past 50 years. Although that might be good news for humans regarding health, it might not be good news for tobacco companies, like Altria, regarding profits in their tobacco products.
However, the recent advent of electronic-cigarettes has provided companies with a new and lucrative avenue of profits. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a study in 2018, which found that e-cigarette use increased by 900-percent among high school students, in the United States, from 2011 to 2015.
A popular cigarette brand is the Juul, which was probably used by many teenagers. Following the Cronos Group investment above-mentioned, Altria—very recently—also invested $12.8 billion in acquiring a 35-percent stake in Juul. These profitable investments suggest that tobacco companies are expanding beyond their traditional tobacco businesses.
On the other hand, cannabis companies appear to partner with big companies outside of the cannabis industry gladly. Companies such as Constellation Brands and Altria have been lobbying for decades on behalf of alcohol and tobacco. Furthermore, Constellation Brands and Altria seem to have acquired the knowledge necessary to navigate and capitalize within the regulatory marketplace.
It appears that cannabis investments in Canada will soon substantially increase. Not only are Big Tobacco companies interested in the Cannabis Industry, but companies in other fields are interested as well. For example, Pharmaceutical Corporations are looking forward to patent an endless array of medication that uses THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Furthermore, the vast agricultural potential of cannabis might suggest that the mega-company Monsanto might eventually be interested in the Cannabis Industry. Moreover, it appears that even soda companies are looking to make moves in the Cannabis Industry, following the numerous reports from last fall about American giant Coca-Cola partnering with a Canadian cannabis company—Aurora Cannabis—to create a CBD-wellness drink.
What do all these investments in the Cannabis Industry entail for the future?
It seems safe to speculate that big businesses might be seriously stepping up to invest in the Cannabis Industry. These last investments by Big Tobacco companies might be just the beginning of a trend that might lead the tobacco and cannabis industries to assimilate together.
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