Corporate America has its beady little eyes locked on the weed industry

Corporate America has its beady little eyes locked on the weed industry

VicesAugust 16, 2017 By Kyle Sparkman

Cannabis is one of the hottest commodities in the country, with corporations finally coming out of the woodwork to line their pockets as the tides finally turn in favor of a weed-friendly America.

Recent polls show an overwhelming majority are in favor of recreational use, supporting the reality that it’s when legalization will occur at the federal level, not if.

However, in states where it is legal, there has been a void in the industry of big corporations who, up until recently, have been hesitant to tarnish their shiny brands with an unsure marketplace. Though in the past few years, corporate America has decided the time is ripe to get in on the greens.

Big tobacco

Despite its best efforts, big tobacco couldn’t keep it a secret there was a vested interest in the legalization of recreational marijuana. In fact, companies like Philip Morris — the lovable scoundrels behind Marlboro — has been keeping a close eye on the state of weed since the ‘70s. It even worked with the government to commission research on the plant, which helped them study it as both a possible investment and competitor.

“I can predict that marihuana smoking will have grown to immense proportions within a decade and will probably be legalized,” said Dr. Alfred Burger, Philip Morris Chemistry Fellowship Supervisor, in 1969. “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.”

Overall, cigarette use is down among adults in the U.S., and tobacco giants know they’ll have to adapt to keep turning a profit in the future. That’s why companies have invested millions into e-cigarettes and are well suited to make a move into marijuana if need be.

On the record, however, tobacco companies have officially stated most have no plans to cultivate cannabis — though these are the same companies who used to have doctors recommend cigarettes for ailments.

We reached out to Camel, Marlboro and Newport cigarettes to see if any minds have been changed about venturing into the field(s) of cannabis.

Marlboro said we had to “terminate our call,” because, admittedly, none of us here smoke.

Camel and Newport were unable to comment. Philip Morris allotted us 15 seconds to leave a message.

They’ll get back to us soon, we’re sure of it.

Startups, chains, and corporations

Startup companies and chains backed by investors are here to revolutionize the way you get stoned— or at least make it a lot more normal.

Take dispensaries in Colorado, for example. A few are poised to become large chain systems, with massive million-dollar growhouses and expedited processes to deliver in bulk. There are easy parallels to be drawn with Walmart here.

Other Wall Street-type investors are putting big money into startups that are seeking to innovate the technology behind pot and and rebrand it in an accessible way. Think gluten-free, kale-infused cannabis cakes made with the highest potency oil anyone has ever seen.

Of course, there are still established agricultural corporations who stand to benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry. You know Monsanto, often found in the news for being accused of trying to hide cancer research about weed killers and generally suing the pants off anyone foolish enough to stand in their way. The company makes genetically modified crops, and could very well start making GMO cannabis that would prevent anyone else from using their strains. There’s nothing really stopping it at this point from doing so.

When weed becomes a larger, more stable moneymaker, there’s going to be a lot of cannabis-related legislation as the federal government confronts the growing number of states legalizing it. This is where big tobacco has a real advantage. It has teams of lobbyists with years of experience in the trenches of D.C. politics.

Marijuana activist groups have even approached big tobacco for policy-related talks. During those talks, “some tobacco people” indicated they’d like to see legislation limiting who can acquire a license to transport marijuana. A big tobacco monopoly that completely edges out small time players likely won’t happen, but behemoth corporations aren’t exactly known for welcoming competition either.

Apart from the nasty profit-driven practices weaseling their way into an industry built on compassion, there’s some good that can come from serious investment in recreational weed. For instance, it might need the power and influence of bigger players to truly bring legalization to the next level. Even if the industry stands to make a lot of money, some investors do recognize the social benefits that will come from legalization and an end to absurd marijuana-related incarceration rates.

Let’s not forget our tech-minded friends. Apart from designing marijuana products that give a more pleasant consumer experience, more investment means more medical research that will help people in need.

Also, let’s be honest, as shameful as it is to admit, the idea of a marijuana Starbucks is pretty cool.

Though if that happens, there will inevitably be chain stores and financially resourceful companies undercutting the small guys. They’ll profit from the work these small-time folks put in to pursue legalization when no one else would. That’s neither cool nor fair, but it’s part of the deal the industry will have to accept for marijuana to become a drug that’s as legal and American as whiskey or tobacco.

The good news is, as a consumer, you can choose who to support when that Mega-Weedmart opens up in your neighborhood. If you have the choice between a Miller Lite at Applebee’s and a craft beer at a local bar, which do you choose?

Corporate America might be bad news for some, but if it brings us closer to being a society with an alternative to getting blackout drunk every weekend, maybe welcoming them isn’t so bad.