Although tobacco companies have long denied that they have any interest in entering the legal marijuana market, decades of internal documents suggest otherwise.
That’s the conclusion of a fascinating study that appears in the June issue of the health-policy journal The Millbank Quarterly. Indeed, the documents show that tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana as both a potential competitor and a money-making opportunity since at least the early 1970s.
Advocates for marijuana legalization need to keep this history in mind, stress the study’s authors, for “there is a risk that tobacco industry, with its demonstrated ability to manipulate consumers’ consent and regulatory frameworks, will take over marijuana markets, exacerbating yet another public health problem.”
Millions of documents
For the study, researchers at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) searched through 80 million pages of digitized internal tobacco-industry documents, which had been turned over to the university as the result of tobacco litigation. Using search words like “marijuana,” “cannabis, “reefer,” weed,” “spliffs,” “blunts,” and “pot,” the researchers uncovered about 700 relevant documents.
Those documents show that at least three tobacco companies — Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco and RJ Reynolds — considered making cigarettes containing cannabis four decades ago, even if they weren’t publicly supporting marijuana legalization.
The documents also show, however, that the companies were premature (to say the least) in their belief that marijuana would become legalized for recreational use.
A need to ‘capture the market’
Here, for example, is an excerpt from a 1969 memo written by Alfred Berger, a University of Virginia professor who supervised a Phillip Morris fellowship program on organic chemistry’s relationship with nicotine, to a manager in the tobacco company’s research lab:
From all I can gather from the literature, from the press, and just living among young people, I can predict that marihuana smoking will have grown to immense proportions within a decade and will probably be legalized. The company that will bring out the first marihuana smoking devices, be it a cigarette or some other form, will capture the market and be in a better position than its competitors to satisfy the legal public demand for such products. I want to suggest, therefore, that you institute immediately a research program on all phases of marihuana.