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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Big Tobacco Eyed Marijuana Industry Back in the 1960s

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2014 at 3:21 PM

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Marijuana legalization's constant canard is the specter of Big Tobacco. Lurking behind the scenes are Philip Morris and company, scheming and plotting to cash in on legal weed... at this exact moment!

This line is famous and persistent -- we've heard it multiple times over the years, from otherwise-rational people and certified lunatics alike -- and it is also utterly bogus. RJ Reynolds hasn't bought any huge plots of land in Humboldt County, and isn't sitting on any proprietary, Monsanto-like weed strains (Let's not forget this conspiracy theory's main flaw: tobacco firms already have a license to print money in the form of their federal tobacco-growing permits, which they risk losing messing around with weed).

Or are they? Score one for the tinfoil bong-hatters, as Big Tobacco did indeed have a desire to enter the marijuana game. Philip Morris's flirtation with the weed game just happened to be over 45 years ago, according to documents recently unearthed at UC San Francisco.

The LA Times has the scoop, crediting tobacco researchers at UCSF as well as health journal Milbank Quarterly. The researchers dug up memos, letters and other corporate communiques between tobacco company executives at Philip Morris, Justice Department officials and other government honchos in Nixon-era America, back when the country was first grappling with the "marihuana question" (and back when the US answered the question with "outright Prohibition").

In late 1969, the feds asked Philip Morris to test cannabis smoke, according to letters between company officials and the government. In return, the company asked for secrecy -- a request with which the government agreed.

It went further. The documents show that the tobacco firms had drafted business plans and marketing strategies. "We are in the business of relaxing people," one memo reads, pointing out the natural progression from selling tobacco to selling weed. Things became so real that American Tobacco somehow found out "from a reliable source" that Philip Morris somehow landed an exclusive license from the feds to grow weed, and demanded action.

What came of all these machinations? Nothing, as far as we know. All the tobacco firms told the Times the same story: that was a long time ago, nobody remembers anything, and we don't have any secret weed lab.

Which is probably just what a tobacco company with a secret weed lab would say.

Big Pharma has already embraced the magic plant, with GW Pharmaceuticals in clinical trials for a CBD-derived spray (which is also being tested at UCSF, as it turns out). There's no reason tobacco wouldn't or shouldn't follow suit -- just as soon as marijuana is made legal and removed from the DEA's list of most-banned substances.

Until then, Big Tobacco's entry into the marijuana game is just a wild idea -- and a wild idea first cooked up 45 years ago.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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