Large American tobacco companies followed the discussion on legalising cannabis from the late 1960s onwards, and conducted cannabis research in secret. They saw the plant as both a rival and a potential product to be launched, indicates a new article published in The Milbank Quarterly journal.
The study was a joint project between the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education (University of California, San Francisco) and the University of Helsinki.
“The study proves that the tobacco industry is interested in creating cannabis products. Should cannabis be legalised, the tobacco industry will probably try to seize the market,” claims one of the three authors of the article, Heikki Hiilamo, professor in social policy.
Since the 1990s, more than 80 million pages of tobacco companies’ internal documents have been made public as a result of a legal process. This study is the first endeavour to systematically examine these archives from the perspective of cannabis.
In the USA, the states of Colorado and Washington legalised the recreational use of cannabis at the turn of the year. Many other states are considering doing the same. The researchers believe that politicians and officials should prepare for the tobacco companies' efforts to increase cannabis use.
“If cannabis products are legalised, they should be regulated like tobacco. This applies to advertising, taxation, warning stickers and sales in vending machines or over the internet. Smoking cannabis should be banned wherever cigarettes are banned,” states Hiilamo.
In the Los Angeles Times article based on the study, major tobacco companies, such as British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co deny any interest in the cannabis market at the moment.
According to Hiilamo, the attitudes towards cannabis in Finland have become more moderate, and experimentation among young people has increased since 2006.
“Experiences in the USA and Uruguay also generate pressure for us to legalise cannabis. The budget cuts in public administration may have a similar effect. People want the authorities to focus on solving problems other than surveillance and punishment of cannabis home-growers or users."