Legal Marijuana and Big Tobacco

Will this soon be the new reality in Colorado and Washington?

Will this soon be the new reality in Colorado and Washington?

Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington state. People can possess up to an ounce of marijuana and smoke it on private property without fear of legal punishment. Tobacco companies predicted this moment would come and have been preparing for liberalized marijuana laws since the last cultural shift occurred around pot in the 1970s.

Notes from a 1976 “Problem Laboratory” (brainstorming) session of Lorillard Tobacco Company’s advertising employees in April 1976 mention marijuana. Members of the group were encouraged to present their goals and wishes in the form of “How To” and “I wish” statements. Participants were instructed to come up all kinds of ideas, even ones that were illegal, immoral or non-feasible (all of which makes this document particularly fascinating and insightful). With all need to appear decent and moral removed, these employees were able to express their most sincere and ambitious wishes and desires for their products:

In Session #1 participants were asked to identify ways to give smokers more perceived value in their cigarettes.  Ideas expressed by the group included Idea #38: “How to have a cigarette with MJ [marijuana] added to it.” While we’re there, other entertaining items include Idea #50: “How to make it so addictive: one cigarette and you’ve got him for life,” and (#51), “How to have a cigarette specifically for children (sparkler additive candy).” Even more: “How to have an aphrodisiac [in cigarettes],” “How to make cigarettes more like Linus’ blanket,” and “How [to use cigarettes to] deliver birth control (for men).”

Trademarking Names for Marijuana Cigarettes

An expansive 295-page confidential report prepared for the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company in 1976 examined trends and predicted what might be likely to affect future cigarette markets through the year 1990. It correctly predicted an environment of greatly increased regulation for the industry, as well as changing social values around smoking, and more.

Of particular interest is the discussion about changing social values that will permit wider use of marijuana. Some public health advocates have claimed that the tobacco industry has trademarked the street names of various types of marijuana for use if and when marijuana ever becomes legalized. While not mentioning specific companies or the names trademarked, this report confirms that this is true. It broadly assesses the industry’s potential to fill such a market, and even goes so far as to predict the value a legalized marijuana market would have for the tobacco industry:

“[Marijuana] is the recreational drug; the choice of a significant minority of the population….The trend in liberalization of drug laws reflect the overall change in our value system. It also has important implications for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line. “(The tobacco companies) have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it [and] the distribution to market it” (Reference 20). In fact, some firms have registered trademarks which are taken directly from marijuana street jargon. These trade names are used currently on little known legal products, but could be switched if and when marijuana is legalized. Estimates indicate that the market in legalized marijuana might be as high as $10 billion annually…”

A 1993 internal corporate email confirms that Philip Morris (PM) trademarked the name “Marley” in France around the same time that France was considering liberalizing its marijuana laws. PM also sought to trademark the slogan, “It’s high time for a Marley!” The family and estate of reggae star Bob Marley asked PM drop the name and threatened a lawsuit, pointing out that Bob Marley had died of a brain tumor and lung cancer in 1981. Marley’s widow and controller of his estate, Rita Marley, said “Bob Marley was a Rastafarian whose religious beliefs included the use of marijuana for both spiritual and medicinal purposes. We are very protective of Bob’s legacy.” Philip Morris declined Mrs. Marley’s request to drop the trade name and said, “This name was not picked with Bob Marley in mind…,” Pm insisted. “The name Marley can have a wide variety of associations…”

Zig Zag, the most popular marijuana rolling papers in the U.S., have long been manufactured by a tobacco company. In the 1970s, U.S. Tobacco was the licensed distributor of Zig Zag rolling papers. At that time, over half of the 240 million packets of rolling papers the company sold in 1972 were estimated to have been used for rolling joints. Today the exclusive distributor of Zig Zag papers is National Tobacco. The company will surely see a boost in business due to the liberalized marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado.

Cigarette Makers See Themselves as Drug Purveyors

Since cigarette makers see themselves and drug companies rather than tobacco companies, so it should be no surprise that they would consider marketing marijuana commercially in some form. They view their main function as providing drugs to the masses. This view was made evident by a 1980 report by British American Tobacco titled “Brainstorming II: What three radical changes might, through the agency of R&D, take place in this industry by the end of the century?” In a section of the document titled “Drug Diversification,” BAT wrote:

“In a world of increased government intervention, B.A.T. should learn to look at itself as a drug company rather than as a tobacco company. The mood affecting drug requirements of the population will in the future increase but the range of requirements will encompass tranquillisers e.g. valium, endorphin/enkephalin (brain opiates), marijuana, nicotine analogues, etc. At present the taking of many of these drugs is either medically prescribed or regarded as deviant behavior, but could be “socialised” like alcoholic drinking and tobacco smoking. The diversification programme would have to include (i) what to administer, (ii) how to administer it, and (iii) how to encourage social acceptability. Initial research might be pursued through contracts followed up through the purchase of a drug company.”

Local communities in Colorado, where city councils are driven by fear of the new marijuana law, are clinging to the past as tightly as they can by exercising the right provided in the law to prohibit the commercial and retail cultivation and sale of marijuana within their borders. But this only leaves the door wide open for the professional grow-it-and-smoke-it companies — the cigarette makers — to get a jump on the new marijuana market that will certainly be created by the new laws in Colorado and Washington. When that happens, expect highly engineered marijuana cigarettes containing a host of additives like smootheners, coolants and flavorings like menthol or cherry, and perhaps innovations like puffed marijuana (akin to puffed wheat or rice, already used in tobacco) that dilute the actual amount of marijuana in the product and make the product easier to smoke, particularly by new smokers, or “starters.”

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