Cannabis is making some very powerful friends. On Monday, the leading Canadian marijuana company Cronos Group Inc. confirmed that it was in talks with mega-conglomerate Altria Group Inc. about a possible investment in cannabis products.
While Altria isn’t itself a household name, their most popular product Marlboro Cigarettes is. In fact Altria is one of the world’s largest producers of tobacco. The corporation owns Philip Morris USA, which in turn owns Marlboro and a handful of other big tobacco brands.
As of Tuesday, Altria had neither confirmed nor denied its potential involvement in cannabis, according to the Associated Press.
Needless to say, the involvement of Altria could be a game-changer for the cannabis industry. But not only for the reasons everyone thinks about, like packs of pre-rolled Marlboro joint in every 7-11. The more monumental change brought about by such a deal would be legislative.
Altria is a major player in government lobbying. At one point the company was the second largest funder of lobbying in the United States. Now it averages about $10 million in government spending per year. The company also sits on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Group (ALEC), an uber-powerful special interest group in Washington.
Many people believe that Altria’s lobbying was behind the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, a piece of legislation which put tobacco regulation under the supervision of the FDA. While the bill was supported by many health advocates including the American Cancer Society, it was also criticized for regulations which actually diminished some forms of oversight and favored already established brands such as Marlboro over other companies. That’s how the bill earned its nickname the “Marlboro Protection Act.”
All that is to say that Altria has some deep pockets and even deeper connections in Washington. And if they stood to make a profit from the legalization of cannabis, it would be out of character not to talk to their friends in Washington about it. And by “talk,” we mean give them millions of dollars.
It could be even more persuasive than previous attempts to legalize cannabis in Washington, like throwing a giant weed party on the White House lawn, but probably less funny.