When the U.S. megacorp Altria made a $1.8 billion buy-in on the booming Canadian cannabis industry last week, the connection to their umbrella ownership of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris was made instantly.
The maker of Marlboro cigs has always been the butt of half-baked conspiracy theories about far off cannabis legalization that would one day force us all to buy our bud from the infamous tobacco dealer.
Maybe that’s why not many potheads batted an eye when the multibillion dollar deal went down last week. To many, it was really never a matter of if, but when.
Altria is making major moves, not just in Canada, but across the globe. Still based in the U.S., and wary of federal laws surrounding cannabis here at home, the company is tiptoeing through that minefield domestically in an attempt to position themselves at the top of the lucrative new worldwide industry.
In some brilliant reporting by Chris Roberts over at Leafly.com, it is revealed that Altria and Philip Morris’s interest in cannabis is neither sudden, nor subtle. Though they have tried to cover their tracks as best they can along the way, we now know that according to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the company already holds 41 separate patents on various vaporization devices that appear to be aimed at the cannabis industry.
Altria began filing these patents as far back as 2013, but their most recent one was just over a week ago on December 4th!
The have an additional 51 patent applications in review for “vaporizers”, plus 70 more for devices that can “vaporize”.
Anyone paying attention has seen the projected sales numbers for cannabis concentrates – particularly vape pens – over the next five to ten years and Altria clearly sees the hardware side of that market as a safe bet. Hell, they don’t even want to know what you put in it.
That statement may imply that Altria or Philip Morris are manufacturing vape pens, but they are not. . . yet. In fact, many of their patented designs are eerily similar to products that have been on the market for years.
It is unclear if Altria intends to go after eventual competitors with patent infringement lawsuits, but with steady profits of $25 billion per year, they certainly have the intimidating bankroll to do so.
Altria has intentionally excluded the terms “cannabis” or “marijuana” from any of their patent filings in a forked-tongue attempt to slither under the radar of both industry and government watchdogs.
Despite their colossal annual intake, the powers that be at Altria recognize that traditional cigarette smoking is in a rapid decline, losing lifelong users to vaping nicotine or cannabis oil.
Interestingly, they’ve known it for a long time, as we discover in a private letter written in 1969 between a man named Alfred Burger and the main research lab for Philip Morris.
Burger was at the time a professor overseeing the Phillip Morris Fellowship in Chemistry at the University of Virginia – yes, that was a thing.
In the letter Burger makes a bold prediction that “marihuana” would be legal within a decade. Well, nearly half a century later we are still waiting for that to come true. But Burger makes some other predictions that help to shed some light on current events.
“The company that will be able to bring out the first legal marihuana smoking devices, be it a cigarette or some other form,” said Burger, “will capture the market and be in a better position than its competitors to satisfy legal public demand for such products.”
You can read the entire letter HERE, and you really should.
It is an inside look at the minds behind one of the largest industries of the past 50 years that we were never supposed to see.
This year alone, cannabis concentrates in legal markets are expected to rake in $3 billion in revenue.
58% of that will come in the form of pre-filled vaporizer pens, or, “marihuana smoking devices”.
Altria’s patent fetish doesn’t end at vape pens. The company holds a mindboggling 7,800 registered patents and has that many more under review in the application process.
Their patents in the cannabis space are intentionally vague, but are targeted specifically at the fastest rising sectors of the industry. For example, they hold a patent on a “terpenoid producing plant”.
On one hand, you look at that and think, “WTF does that mean?”
From a slightly different angle, however, you look at it and think, “What if they’re playing chess and we’re playing checkers…”
By 2022, revenue from legal cannabis concentrates is predicted to be on par with that of smokable cannabis flower at somewhere around $8.5 billion each. After decades of peddling tobacco and nicotine to the tune of billions (if not trillions) of dollars, Altria has a lot of money riding on what they believe will be the next big thing.