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The maker of Marlboro cigarettes is muscling in on the marijuana market

Altria Group Inc., the US maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is moving into the pot sector, paying $1.8 billion for a 45% stake in Canadian cannabis firm Cronos, according to reports from Bloomberg.

In the US, legal ambiguity over marijuana use makes domestic wheeling and dealing too risky for many national and multinational businesses. But north of the border, the newly legal weed market is open for business—and Altria is the latest company to make a move to Canada, joining other companies such as liquor giant Constellation Brands.

For Altria, once known as Phillip Morris, it’s an opportunity to get comfortable in a nascent market and position itself for the potential national legalization in the US. With cigarette sales plummeting, now can hardly be a bad time to diversify, and the company is reportedly also in talks to invest in vaping startup Juul.

For Cronos, as the company said in a press release, Altria’s long history in the industry means it offers “product development and commercialization capabilities, and deep regulatory expertise.” In the meantime, Altria is paring back some of its tobacco alternatives, discontinuing vaping products MarkTen and Green Smoke, with the objective of focusing on other “more compelling reduced-risk tobacco product opportunities.”

While Marlboro-branded “weed cigarettes” are not in the pipeline, the news comes after nearly 50 years of speculation to that end. As far back as the late 1960s, Business Week reported tales through the “underground grapevine” of major cigarette companies lying in wait of legalization “so they can start producing grass-laced smokes.” Those in the know alleged that names such as Acapulco Gold and Tijuana Gold were already copyrighted in anticipation, while an unnamed cigarette company had bought up swathes of pot-appropriate farmland in Louisiana, Mexico, and Central America.

A few months later, however, letters to the Rolling Stone editor from key players in the tobacco industry sought to put the record straight. ”Rumors about the cigarette industry’s involvement with marijuana are as persistent as they are false,” said a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute. The then-president of now-defunct tobacco company Brown & Williamson was clearer still: “We are unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana, and therefore disclaim any activity which would remotely involve marijuana.” The times, they are a changin’.

Tobacco giant Altria is making inroads into the world of legal cannabis, buying a 45% stake in Canadian pot company Cronos.

Philip Morris Not Selling Marijuana Cigarettes

Posted on February 15, 2018

Q: Are Philip Morris “Marlboro M” brand marijuana cigarettes now for sale in four U.S. states?

A: No. That claim comes from a 2014 satirical story. It has recently resurfaced without the satire label.

FULL ANSWER

Philip Morris does not sell marijuana cigarettes in the United States. Despite some marijuana-friendly state laws, marijuana still remains illegal at the federal level.

An article that was originally posted in 2014, and republished in 2016, says otherwise. The self-described satirical website “Abril Uno” wrote that Philip Morris — which it spelled incorrectly — will start producing “Marlboro M” marijuana cigarettes. It said they will be sold through licensed outlets in Colorado and Washington in an effort to “join the marijuana legalization bandwagon.”

“Abril Uno,” or “April One” in English, has a disclaimer at the bottom of its home page that says, “Abril Uno is a satirical web publication and uses invented names in all its stories, except in cases where public figures or entities are being satirized.”

In 2015, other websites that do not have such a disclaimer republished the story, making it difficult for readers to differentiate between real and made-up news. For instance, Now 8 News shared the story. However, as we have written, Now 8 News is not a real news website. Its name is deceptively close to that of the real CBS affiliate TV station in Las Vegas, 8 News Now.

The story resurfaced on urhealthguide.com on Feb. 12. This latest version claimed that Marlboro marijuana cigarettes are now for sale in four U.S. states: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

The story includes a doctored photo of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes that says, “Marlboro CANNABIS.” The article also includes a made-up quote from a non-existent Philip Morris executive, Serafin Norcik, “the Senior Vice President for marketing.” Norcik, according to the story, said: “Our company has been working hard on this clinical research trial and are ‘high’ on the idea for marketing cannabis … We have finally made the decision to take the leap and support these states in their right to legalized recreational marijuana use.”

However, there is no one by the name of Serafin Norcik listed as an executive on either the Philip Morris USA or Philip Morris International website. And there is currently no one who holds the position of senior vice president for marketing.

In an email, a Philip Morris spokeswoman, Iro Antoniadou, told the Associated Press that the account published in urhealthguide.com is false.

In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded an Obama-era policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, which conflict with federal laws that make marijuana illegal. It remains unclear if Sessions is going to issue a new policy.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.

Sources

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Bogus Black Lives Matter Stories Won’t Die.” FactCheck.org. 10 Jan 2018.

Philip Morris International. “Our Leadership Team.” Pmi.com. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.

Associated Press. “No Philip Morris Marijuana Cigarettes on Sale.” New York Times. 13 Feb 2018.

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Philip Morris Not Selling Marijuana Cigarettes Posted on February 15, 2018 Q: Are Philip Morris “Marlboro M” brand marijuana cigarettes now for sale in four U.S. states? A: No.