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Big Tobacco's Playbook for Investing in Marijuana - Part 1

May 14, 2017

(Photo via Pixabay


Big tobacco it taking over cannabis! Some say it's a rumor, some say it's a myth. I hate to break it to you, it may be real, folks! The tobacco industry is absolutely investing in the booming cannabis sector, it's just not exactly publicizing it.  


When it comes to big tobacco and their investments in cannabis, there's no sure bet on what to look for. The tobacco companies thrive on having deep pockets and the veil of secrecy that comes with it. 


You don't need to take our word for it though, as big tobacco companies have been leaving crumb trails for decades hinting at their playbook and intentions in the space. Part 1 of their play book is to lock up vital intellectual property. From trademarks to patents, tobacco companies are placing their bets and protecting their investments.


The Rumor


The people's fear that big-tobacco would take over weed goes back longer than you'd think. An article in The New York Times from September 28th, 1969 centered around the rumor that big tobacco was trademarking common street names for cannabis.


People were worried that names like "Acapulco Gold" were being taken by the cigarette companies.The article concluded that:


"Under the law, no trademarks can be registered for marijuana cigarettes. If future legislation recognizes the drug as salable, probably registrations can be granted for cigarettes made of marijuana." 


For further clarity, the article mentions that "like all other marks, those for tobacco must first be used in commerce to be eligible for registration." Essentially you can't get a trademark for use on marijuana products because selling marijuana products is illegal.


Not Just a Rumor...


But what if tobacco companies filed for use of these marks for other, legal products? Apparently, they did. Based on passages from a 295 page report dating to October 11, 1976, titled "A Technological Forecast of the Future Environment and its Effects on the Tobacco Industry," big tobacco companies were doing just that.



As seen above in the passage pictured from page 56 of the report, "In fact, some firms have registered trademarks which are taken directly from marijuana street jargon. These tradenames are used currently on little known legal products, but could be switched if and when marijuana is legalized." 


Even back then, they were anticipating big tobacco's role in the cannabis industry of tomorrow. The report talks about how big tobacco companies "have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it, [and] the distribution system to market it."


The Trademark Trend Continues


Years after that report, in November of 1993 an internal Philip Morris e-mail shows the company scrambling to defend their registration of a trademark for the name "Marley" in France. Philip Morris needed to respond to claims made by Bob Marley Music Inc. "that PM is denigrating the name of the late Bob Marley, a Jamaican reggae musician..."


The Philip Morris memo goes on to say that "coinciding with this is the fact that the issue of legalizing marijuana has once again come to the fore in Europe."

Then comes Philip Morris' media statement, which the e-mail says was "drafted by PMI, in conjunction with PM Trademarks." This statement drops a few interesting hints for us:


In response to whether or not Philip Morris was preparing for legalized marijuana cigarette sales..."ABSOLUTELY NOT!" The first stage of acceptance is denial...


Don't Forget Patents


It's not just trademarks in the tool chest to protect intellectual property, it's patents too! 


To give you some more recent crumbs from the Philip Morris trail, look at U.S. Patent US9115366B2 assigned to Philip Morris Products SA. Filed back in 2006 but not granted until 2015, this patent protects Philip Morris protection over a "system for producing terpenoids in plants." The patent specifically mentions its applications for cannabis:


"the glandular trichomes found among others in the Solanaceae (tomato, tobacco, potato, pepper, eggplant, etc.), Asteraceae (sunflower, etc.) and Cannabaceae (eg.Cannabis sativa) families."


Fast forward to April of 2017, when we see modern cannabis companies like CannaRoyalty Corp. forming units to "focus on the development and sale of cannabis products with innovative terpene formulations."


A quick search in Google Patents, and just a handful more of cannabis-related patents assigned to big tobacco companies shows up including:


  • In 2003, Japan Tobacco was granted U.S. patent US6509352B1 for a cannabinoid receptor modulator. 

  • In 2012 China Tobacco was granted Chinese patent CN202566268U for the production of a "ternary composite filter stick containing cannabis-flavored nanometer porous starch granules." 

  • Then in 2014, China Tobacco was granted Chinese patent CN204362945U for the production of a "three-component compound filter stick with cannabis sativa seed extracts."




To be totally clear, it's not just big tobacco investing in marijuana. It's an all out race to control the components of this industry before it's too late. Biotech companies all over the world are diving into cannabinoid related research. Billionaire Peter Thiel's Founders Fund has put million of dollars into a cannabis private equity fund, Privateer Holdings. Even Warren Buffett is investing in the booming industry.


Stay tuned for part 2 of big tobacco's playbook for investing in the marijuana industry, where we'll focus on their strategic acquisitions. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe to one or more of our free newsletters. Also, don't forget to connect with The Daily Marijuana Observer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram



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