The latest paper from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco shows that tobacco company executives of the 1970s feared legalized marijuana as a product that would become a healthier alternative to their tobacco cigarettes and considered ways they could capture the cannabis market, despite repeated public denials of interest in cannabis.
“We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed,” reads one Philip Morris top management memo from 1970. “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.”
Another report to the British tobacco industries from 1976 noted, “There is an obvious danger that, if more restrictions are placed on tobacco and if the marijuana habit notches up further small advances in legality, many people may switch from one to the other in their search for a form of escape from our neurotic civilization.”
Of course, we have seen more restrictions on tobacco and its rapid decline in use by Americans, especially young people, who are now more likely to have tried marijuana than cigarettes. The 1976 memo even noted that “Marijuana supporters would claim that was a net improvement from the health aspect,” and warned that tobacco companies marketing marijuana cigarettes “would be extremely bad public relations,” because the goal of minimizing the health risks of cigarettes “would be entirely defeated if tobacco were productively and commercially equated with marijuana.”
The researchers conclude that the tobacco companies “are prepared to enter the marijuana market with the intention of increasing its already widespread use,” echoing Kevin Sabet’s favorite talking point on the threat of “Big Marijuana.” “[P]olicymakers and public health authorities,” the researchers explain, “should develop and implement policies that would prevent the tobacco industry… from becoming directly involved in the burgeoning marijuana market…”
Well, we couldn’t agree more on that; why let stodgy old Philip Morris dominate the marijuana industry when we can build a shiny new marijuana industry that benefits our consumers and producers while protecting the public from the kinds of abuses wrought by Big Tobacco? We’ve already agreed to advertising and storefront regulations more restrictive than retail restrictions on pornography. Our industry organizations are leading the charge in promoting effective child-proof packaging and labeling. And, of course, nothing our Big Marijuana industry could do would ever match the devastation to society wrought by today’s Big Marijuana -- the Mexican cartels, violent criminals and street-dealing kids running the current market.
The fact is that the state-by-state marijuana legalization that is unfolding is precisely the kind of incubator for a distributed, competitive, well-regulated marijuana market and an insulator from multi-national tobacco corporations this paper is calling for. So long as marijuana is federally illegal, no Big Tobacco company can get involved without becoming bait for the next federal prosecutor looking to haul them into court, where they haven’t been very successful lately. State laws on residency and investment are producing brand-new millionaires and increased tax revenues and jobs for the people of the states that pass these legalization initiatives, not for multi-national tobacco companies that avoid paying taxes by moving jobs and assets offshore.
If you really want to hurt Big Tobacco, legalize marijuana.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.