I knew this would happen. In fact, to be honest, I’m surprised it took this long.
As marijuana becomes legal in more and more of the U.S., I knew sooner or later Big Tobacco would look to get into the game.
Sure enough, a bunch of huge stories came out this week that Altria … the parent company of Philip Morris, makers of Marlboros, is investing $1.8 billion in Cronos, a Canadian marijuana company. And as we all know, marijuana was legalized across ALL of Canada a couple of months ago.
About 80 million people in the U.S. live in states where marijuana is now legal. Add that to the 36 million of so people in Canada … that’s a lot of legal marijuana users. And that number is just going to continue to grow as more and more states figure out that keeping pot illegal is not just stupid but also a waste of a BIG potential tax source.
So, tobacco sales in the U.S. have been in decline for decades. Big Tobacco is being forced to diversify … by pouring more energy in developing tobacco markets in the Third World, by investing in e-cigarettes (though the future of e-cigs is now in doubt with new FDA regulations being proposed) and now pot. It was totally predictable.
My biggest concern about Big Tobacco getting their beak wet in the pot industry is my fear that they’ll pull the same underhanded, amoral crap with pot that they’ve pulled with marijuana for decades. For instance, I could totally see Big Tobacco artificially adding nicotine into marijuana to make it physically addictive like cigarettes. (And then acting all “Moi? Not us!” before Congressional committees about it). Think of it. The pure, amoral genius of it. The most addictive substance in the world added … to marijuana. They would do it, too. They totally would.
One of the biggest worries about legalizing pot was allowing big corporations to take over the pot industry. I remember an article from a year or two ago worrying that the beer industry would get involved in pot. Honestly, that doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Altria or any tobacco company getting their paws on it.
An interesting story about a report put out by California State University, San Francisco (co-authored by anti-tobacco advocate Stanton Glantz) warning that legalized marijuana could become the next “Big Tobacco” because it would create a massive, wealthy and politically powerful economic behemoth.
Here is a copy of the 66-page report. , In reading the Sacramento Bee article about it, Glantz and the report are arguing that with legalized pot and the billions of revenue it would create would also create a very powerful marijuana lobby. A lobby that would likely throw its weight around politically and could ultimately become a subsidiary of the tobacco industry, possibly to the detriment of public health policy.
From the article:
“Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the report states.
Glantz, in an interview added:
“The goal (should be) to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” he said.
He worries that a new marijuana industry would spend large sums of money to curry favor with lawmakers.
“I think a corporate takeover of the market … is very, very hard to stop,” he said, adding, “They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”
I’m not necessarily agreeing with the report, and honestly, I found parts of it a bit alarmist. But, the concerns about marijuana monopolies and Big Tobacco involvement in the industry are valid. I have posted other articles about Big Tobacco eyeing the legalization of pot very carefully, with the very real potential of today’s tobacco companies swooping in and taking over the legalized pot industry. Keep in mind, this has already pretty much happened with e-cigarettes. RJ Reynolds bought out the No. 1 e-cigarette brand — Blu E-cigarettes, which controls about 40 percent of the E-cigarette market — and there are a number of other e-cig brands owned by tobacco companies. Big Tobacco isn’t in competition with e-cigs, not anymore. When in doubt, buy ’em out.
Tobacco is a dying product, especially in the West, while both e-cigarettes and marijuana are booming. Pot is likely to boom even more as it’s legalized in more states and Canada. If California legalizes pot in November, that state alone probably represents over 10 percent of the pot market in the U.S. Now tack onto that Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado and perhaps a few other states (legalization seems likely in Nevada, soon), plus another 35 million people in Canada if Trudeau goes through with his promise to legalize pot nationwide. I just have to imagine the people at RJ Reynolds, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris are absolutely drooling over the prospects of getting into that market. That’s over 90 million people in North America living under legalized pot laws as early as 2017.
One of the things I like about one of the California pot legalization measures is that it would allow people to legally grow up to six plants. I haven’t taken the time to research how many plants a person could legally grow in Washington, Oregon or Colorado, but I think it’s important that if pot is legalized that people still be allowed to grow a small amount of their own pot, so it doesn’t quickly and completely become a corporate-run industry. You want to keep RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris or some other monopoly out of the pot business? Let people grow their own pot, and take other steps to prohibit any corporation from getting more than a certain market share and make sure it stays in the hands of small businesspeople.
And there is a paranoid X-Files side of me that is convinced there are people within Big Tobacco that have thought about, dreamed about, maybe even started doing the work on … how to add nicotine to marijuana. Seriously, think about it. Marijuana with arguably the most addictive substance on the planet added. It would be like Spice in “Dune.”
The report states that pot should be regulated much like tobacco. Instead, the California proposal calls for regulations similar to alcohol. From the article:
One of the (measure’s) proponents, Donald Lyman, a retired physician and a former state public health official, said the notion that marijuana must be regulated exactly like tobacco “represents an awkward minority opinion not widely shared within the public health community.”
I have to agree with Lyman here. For one, there’s some actual medical benefits to pot. I think the medical benefits of pot gets overstated by some pot proponents, but there’s legitimate medical uses as a painkiller and to control seizures. There is NO legitimate medical use for tobacco. While it can become habit-forming for some people, marijuana also is not physically addictive anything like tobacco, nor is there any evidence that marijuana causes lung cancer or even COPD. You simply can’t treat pot and tobacco like the same product. Probably the most similar product to pot would be beer or wine (and yes, there are rumours that not only is Big Tobacco drooling over legalized pot, the beer industry has interest in getting into the pot business as well).
One of the California measures would prohibit monopolies and large-scale pot licences for five years. Co-author of the report Rachel Barry, says five years isn’t enough. From the article:
“I am thinking more in 20 years what the industry will evolve into, not five years,” Barry said. “And that’s something we should be doing with the regulations.”
One marijuana legalization proponent sees some validity in some of the report’s concerns, but said that most of these issues are being dealt with in the language of the California measures.
From the article:
Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California and a member of the (Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin) Newsom commission’s steering committee, said he agrees with some of the concerns raised in the report but ultimately believes the initiative protects the public.
“My middle school child will not walk into a corner store where tobacco and alcohol are marketed and see marijuana for sale,” Soltani said.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a couple of weeks ago during the Canadian election campaign that he opposes legalizing marijuana, adding, “marijuana is infinitely more dangerous than tobacco.”
Well, that one statement all by itself is a good example of how Harper was — and I’m sure continues to be — sadly out of touch with reality. And one of the reasons he is the EX Prime Minister of Canada. Harper added that “There’s just overwhelming and growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana.” He didn’t provide any examples of this “evidence.” The fact is, most of the studies out there show little evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana.
Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize pot as part of his campaign. From what I’ve seen on the streets of Vancouver, I find it hard to believe pot is illegal there, but it is in fact, still illegal in Canada.
I don’t want to turn this blog into a pot advocacy blog, but I did want to address the sheer inanity of Harper’s boneheaded comment. Stephen, I really wish I could email you this post, you knucklehead. Here are the facts about pot and tobacco:
Deaths caused by tobacco in the U.S. each year: 440,000
Known deaths caused by pot in the U.S. each year: 0
Number of pot overdoses each year: 0
Number of people physically addicted to pot each year: 0
Wow, tell me again, Stephen, how pot is infinitely worse than tobacco?
The fact is, most studies that have been done on marijuana show no link between pot and lung cancer and no link between pot and COPD. The second bit surprises me, but I can’t argue with what studies have shown. The only studies showing a link between lung disease and pot are some that have shown that combining both pot and tobacco increases the risk of COPD more than just smoking cigarettes alone . Other studies completely contradict that conclusion. But, no study shows a hard link between pot alone and COPD.
I’m not a huge marijuana advocate, but I found Harper’s rhetoric really alarming and clueless, because I think it utterly downplays the shocking damage done to society by cigarette smoking. Not just deaths, but loss of quality of life because of the myriad other diseases we now know are tied to smoking — arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc. Cigarettes do more than kill people. They suck the quality out of people’s lives, too. The other interesting thing about Stephen Harper. When I went to Google images of him to get a mugshot, I found a LOT of photos of him drinking beer. He apparently really likes beer. But, beer is completely harmless in his little world, I guess — never mind the fact that alcohol kills at least 100,000 people every year in the U.S.
I personally don’t think pot is 100 percent, completely harmless; I’ve had some knock-down, drag-out arguments with pot advocates over that claim. I also don’t believe it is a miracle cure for every disease on the planet. Again, I’ve had heated arguments over some of the claims of its medical benefits, which I think some advocates tend to exaggerate. But, I would argue the biggest damage done by marijuana is the fact that it is illegal and people have had their lives ruined because of all the legal problems they have been forced to deal with, including real prison time, simply for possessing, using or growing pot because of antiquated laws that keep it illegal when tobacco and alcohol both cause far more addiction problems and death and damage to our society. Especially minorities. There’s black people in the South doing 5-10 years in prison for simple possession. There’s some real damage there.
So, good on you, Canada and good luck legalizing it.
This story is a bit frustrating and contradictory.
It states, and was widely reprinted in a number of pro-marijuana Websites, that a study from the Annals of the American Thoracic Society says that long-term marijuana smoking has no adverse effect on lung health. (However, this is where these stories drive me crazy — what the study actually said is that long-term marijuana smoking has no adverse effect on lung function. Important distinction.)
What these means is that even after 20 years, it appears for most pot smokers, the lungs still operate at the same capacity, etc., as before the smoker started using pot. That’s drastically different from cigarettes, which seriously impair lung function after a few years (Basically, smokers finding themselves easily out of breath.)
This article, which was written by someone from NORML, contradicts itself slightly by stating that long-term pot smokers “self-report” increased symptoms of bronchitis … and this is the contradiction. Bronchitis, especially chronic bronchitis, leads to more serious COPD … so taking this statement at face value, chronic pot smoking does in fact have a negative effect on lung health.
This article on the same study from ThinkProgress is a little more balanced, I think. It acknowledges that pot smokers seem to have increased bronchitis symptoms, but it blames the rolling paper for that.
There’s studies out there finding zero link between pot smoking and COPD and pot smoking and lung cancer. I don’t have a problem believing the studies on lung cancer, but I personally believe, despite the fact I can’t cite studies to back this up, that long-term chronic pot smoking is simply not good for your lungs. It might take a lot of pot for a long time to seriously damage your lungs — a lot — but it’s still smoke and constant smoke in your lungs are not going to do them any favours. Again, this is just another in a long series of exasperating articles on pot smoking and lung health.
All that being said, I absolutely believe pot should be legal. There’s no logical reason why it is illegal while tobacco and alcohol and legal. And whatever damage pot does to people physically pales by comparison to the damage that pot laws do to people’s lives.
I’m glad someone did an article on this (NBC News) because frankly, this is something I’ve been wondering about myself for the past couple of years.
With a total of four states now with legal marijuana (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska), might the day come when pot sales will be controlled by huge corporations, perhaps even a single massive mega-corporation?
Boy, there are dollars to be made there. Billions upon billions of them. Too much profit to keep Big Business out for long. It’s legal now for about 18 million people in the U.S. — and I guarantee that number will continue to escalate, maybe a LOT and maybe soon. California might be next in line to legalize pot.
According to NBC:
“My concern is the Marlboro-ization or Budweiser-ization of marijuana,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That’s not what I’m fighting for.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the country’s oldest consumer pot lobby. “All of us have at least a little bit of discomfort with the corporate stuff.”
Which brings me to big tobacco. “Marlboro-ization.” I’ve long suspected that Big Tobacco is keeping an eye on the effort to legalize pot … and drooling in the process. The tobacco industry has been in a long, slow decline for about 20 years now. So the industry will have to diversify. One way to accomplish this is by selling more cigarettes overseas — but the gargantuan market of China is off-limits because the Chinese government doesn’t want American tobacco companies taking over its state-owned market.
So, that leaves … marijuana. I would not be shocked. Not in the slightest if RJ Reynolds or Philip Morris got into the marijuana-selling business in the next 10 to 20 years. Pot advocates see it looming on the horizon. They mention beer companies, too.
“Beer, wine and tobacco people—I’ve met with them all,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, which is above all a consumer rights organization. He doesn’t love the idea of Big Pot, but he believes it will help guarantee that users get a quality product at a fair price.
He recalled two lunches in Washington, D.C., (one at DC Noodles, the other at Pizza Paradiso); several office visits; and a grand tour through Savor, the district’s popular beer and food conference.
“It’s been so surreal,” he said, reflecting on more than two decades as a marijuana lobbyist, all of it spent outside the warm circle of the other vice industries.
“I always dreamed of these meetings,” he added. “I pictured balding guys, with comb-overs, red suspenders, eating in quiet restaurants—and lo-and-behold that’s what they’ve been.”
The article focuses pretty heavily on the alcohol industry and whether beer and spirits distributors might want to get involved in the marijuana business someday, or if they see marijuana simply as a competitor.
I’m focusing a bit more on the Big Tobacco aspect, because frankly at this point, I think it’s more likely Big Tobacco would get involved in pot rather than beer companies.
My old pal Stanton Glantz (one of the most prominent anti-tobacco crusaders of the past 30 years) is quoted extensively in the story.
Tobacco executives, meanwhile, have been studying the marijuana industry for years, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His research has drawn an 80-million page archive of tobacco industry documents, spanning the 1960s to the late 1990s. Many of the documents reference softening pot laws, rising use, and the dual threat/opportunity of a third major vice industry.
In early 1970, for example, an unsigned memorandum distributed to Philip Morris’ top management read, “We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed. The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying these needs.”
“These documents reveal that since at least 1970, despite fervent denials, three multinational tobacco companies, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, and RJ Reynolds, all have considered manufacturing cannabis cigarettes,” according to an investigation by Glantz and two colleagues, published this summer in Milbank Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of public health.
Make no mistake. Pot will be legalized, if not everywhere in the U.S., than in most of the U.S. And I’m predicting sooner rather than later. The political will to keep it illegal is slowly caving. And it is big, big, big business, a multi-billion business. You can be damned sure Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds are thinking about it.
The question is … would that be a bad thing?
In my mind, only if they completely abandoned the scourge of the 20th century — tobacco.
OK, NOT an endorsement for kids smoking dope, but an interesting study out of Canada. I think this study speaks more toward the attitudes toward dope and tobacco than the actual health effects of dope and tobacco.
According to this study, kids who just smoke pot have better grades and do better academically than kids who just smoke cigarettes. This study was done over the course of 30 years and to me the really interesting information that came out of it is that far fewer kids smoke cigarettes today than 30 years ago, while more kids smoke pot.
According to the article:
… and those that do (smoke cigarettes) make up a very “marginalized, vulnerable” population, says lead study author Michael Chaiton, assistant professor in epidemiology and public health policy.
This tells me that the most ostracised, least engaged kids, probably kids that will end up as dropouts, are the ones smoking cigarettes, while a lot of all-around average kids are smoking pot now, because even among kids, smoking is no longer seen as cool.
The article states this as much:
“Now there is a distinction between marijuana use and co-use with other substances, and it’s an indication of the changing social norms. So it’s not an absolute that they do better; it’s that social norms have changed and the population of people who use marijuana are more like the general population,” said Chaiton.
Another interesting stat — 92 percent of tobacco smokers also smoke dope, while only 25 percent of pot smokers also smoke tobacco. So, it’s really not an “either or” situation. Most of those cigarette smokers are also smoking pot. It has to do with attitudes toward cigarettes and pot … and what kind of kids are smoking cigarettes or pot in light of those attitudes.
Again, I’m not a fan of kids smoking dope, but they are going to smoke pot. Pot is becoming more and more socially acceptable for adults to the point where two states have legalised it, and I predict it will be legal in several other states within the next two or three years — and when it becomes more socially acceptable for adults to use it, it’s pretty tough to tell kids “none for you.” The attitudes toward pot are pretty similar to the attitudes toward beer.
Now, the study doesn’t say much about how kids smoke pot do academically versus kids who don’t use any drugs (one of the commenters on the article pointed this out.) The article contains this single sentence:
The study followed 5,115 regular pot smokers over the course of 20 years.
This reminds me very much of a study done about 5 years ago showing that even chronic pot use doesn’t appear to lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr.Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles stated. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect” among marijuana smokers who had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users.
So what’s going on here? Why is tobacco smoke so unhealthy and pot smoke apparently does minimal damage (though the article does point out that some studies have shown an increase in bronchitis and chronic coughs in pot smokers).
In any case, every major study on the issue has consistently shown that pot is considerably less dangerous to the lungs and heart than tobacco (not getting into whatever cognative damage chronic pot use might cause. When it comes to lung and heart, tobacco is far, far, far worse). Not to mention the difference of physical addiction between nicotine and THC. I quit smoking dope 20 years ago and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. No night sweats, no cravings, nothing. Why one continues to be illegal and the other legal continues to mystify me. And there doesn’t appear to be a lot of political will out there for legalizing dope.
Pot smoke actually has some of the same toxins as cigarette smoke, but in different doses. One theory is that additives in cigarette smoke are making cigarettes so deadly, but I’m dubious of that one. People were dying of smoking in the 1930s long before the tobacco companies were pumping additives into their tobacco. Another theory is that tobacco smoke is ingested more deeply, but I’m dubious of that one, too, because pot smoke is ingested pretty deeply into the lungs.
I have a theory that lung cancer (forgetting for a bit the heart damage and COPD that smoking causes) is both a genetic and environmental disease, which could be one big reason tobacco smoking causes so much lung cancer while pot smoking doesn’t. There’s been a lot of really interesting and exciting information that has come out about the genetic component of lung cancer the last few years. I’ll write about that in part two tomorrow.
Well, truth be told, I have mixed feelings about this survey. I’m not wild about teens smoking dope (I know, I’m an old fogey, but it is an intoxicant and causes car wrecks and fucks kids up at school and in life. Sorry, I just don’t think pot is 100 percent benign. I liken it to alcohol. It also will damage your lungs.), but the big difference between pot and tobacco is pot ISN’T PHYSICALLY ADDICTIVE!
So, when, or if, a kid gets tired of dope, most of the time, at least 90 percent of the time, they can just simply walk away from it.
Not so with cigarettes.
According to this survey, done by the 2010 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment, 21.4 percent of 12th graders reported smoking pot, compared to 19.2 percent smoking cigarettes. Part of the reason pot use is up, according to this article, is there is more acceptance from parents toward pot smoking. I guess my attitude is after a kid turns 18, they will experiment, and there is only so much as a parent you can do to stop it. I would want my kid to smoke dope until after they turned 18, however.
Again. Good news? I dunno. The tobacco part is good news; the pot part I’m ambivalent about. What’s interesting is when I was a teenager, it seemed like most kids smoked dope … and almost no one smoked cigarettes (or drank beer). Pot was far and away the drug of choice. I think the teen smoking rate skyrocketed in the 80s and 90s because of Joe Camel. So maybe things are going back to the way they were in the early 1980s.