Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

September 27, 2010
Big Tobacco snuffs out rumors of California marijuana interest

Among some determined pot market conspiracy theorists, scattered in marijuana fields of Mendocino or Humboldt or at some urban dispensaries in California cities, one rumor refuses to die:

Big Tobacco is coming - and wants to take over the California weed market.

But Reynolds America Inc, one of America's leading tobacco companies, says it has no interest in going into the pot business - regardless of whether California voters pass Proposition 19 in November to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

In an interview, Frank Lester, spokesman for Reynolds America Inc., seemed almost apologetic for killing the speculation. But he confirmed that the parent company for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco and the American Snuff Company won't be adding a marijuana production division.

"Even going back years, I remember hearing that same thing back in the 1970s and 1980s," Lester said of the Big Tobacco pot business rumors. "We are paying attention to the California initiative just as a political situation. But we're not preparing to enter into the marijuana trade at all."

Lester added: "We're a domestic U.S. tobacco company. We're interested in providing the finest tobacco products to adult tobacco consumers. We're not in the trade of selling marijuana, nor will we ever be."

A spokesman for the Altria Group, parent company for Philip Morris USA, America's largest tobacco producer, dismissed an often-repeated rumor about tobacco companies buying land or investing in California in anticipation of going into the pot trade. He said he is aware of no such transactions involving Philip Morris or Altria companies.

"We're not in that business. We're in the business of selling legal tobacco products," said Altria spokesman David Sutton.

But, per company policy on speculating about future plans, Sutton declined to bluntly say that Phillip Morris will never produce marijuana blunts in the future - leaving some rhetorical real estate for pot conspiracy theorists.

"We never speculate on what our future plans may or may not be," Sutton said. "We don't speculate on any future business plans. It doesn't have anything to do whether it's on this (marijuana) or any other topic."

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