Ready or Not, Corporate America is Coming for the Recreational Marijuana Industry

Marijuana is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities in America. As corporations rush out of the woodwork to line their pockets with that sweet bud-money, the question is — should we welcome corporate America into the recreational marijuana industry?

The tides have turned in favor of a weed-friendly America. Polls are showing a national majority in favor of recreational use, and it’s now a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’ legalization will occur at the federal level.

In states where space seaweed is already legal, there’s been a void in the marijuaneconomy of big corporations who, up until recently, have been hesitant to tarnish their shiny brands with weed. Think prohibition ending in a few states, but Anheuser-Busch decides to wait while craft breweries test the market first.

As you’re probably aware, there’s a certain stigma that comes with publicly supporting psychedelic spinach that has caused many to steer clear of the cannabis community.

 Dog treat-eating stoner: MENACE TO SOCIETY

Dog treat-eating stoner: MENACE TO SOCIETY

However, in the past few years, corporate America has decided the time is ripe to get in on the greens.

Just who are these corporate behemoths anyway?

 
 

Big tobacco (AKA the guys who sold cancer to kids)

Despite their best efforts, big tobacco couldn’t keep it secret that they have a vested interest in the legalization of recreational marijuana. In fact, companies like Philip Morris, the lovable scoundrels behind Marlboro, have been keeping a close eye on the state of weed since the 70’s. They even worked with the US government to commission research on weed, which helped them study the plant as both a possible investment and competitor.

         “I can predict that marihuana smoking will have grown to immense proportions within a decade and will probably be legalized. The company that will bring out the first marihuana smoking devices, be it a cigarette or some other form, will capture the market and be in a better position than its competitors to satisfy the legal public demand for such products.”

                  - Dr. Alfred Burger, Philip Morris Chemistry Fellowship Supervisor, 1969

Cigarette use is down among adults in the US, and tobacco giants know they’ll have to adapt to keep turning a profit. That’s why they’ve invested millions into e-cigarettes and are well suited to make a move into marijuana.

Tobacco companies have officially stated that they have no plans to cultivate cannabis, but they're also known for being. I figured I would reach out to Camel, Marlboro, and Newport cigarettes to see if they’ve changed their minds about venturing into the field(s) of cannabis.

I called Marlboro. They had to “terminate our call” because I admitted that I don’t smoke tobacco. Lesson learned. 

Camel and Newport were sadly unable to comment. I did, however, get through to someone at Philip Morris. Philip wasn’t available to talk, but the representative I spoke with transferred me to their general council’s voicemail where I was allotted 15 seconds to leave an inquiry.

I’m sure they’ll get back to me soon.

Startups, chains, and corporations

 
 

Startup companies and chains backed by investors are here to revolutionize the way you get stoned— or at least make it a lot cheaper.

Take Green Dragon, for example. With ten locations in Colorado, they’re out to become one of the big chain dispensaries. They’re doing pretty well too. To the chagrin of Mom & Pop dispensaries, Green Dragon will get you a gram of green goodness for as little as $5. I think there’s a parallel to be drawn with Walmart here.

Other Wall Street-type investors are putting big money into startups that are seeking to innovate the technology behind pot and and rebrand it in an accessible way. Think gluten-free, kale-infused cannabis cakes made with the highest potency THC oil you’ve ever seen.

Of course, there are still established agricultural corporations who stand to benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry. Ever heard of Monsanto? You’ll find them in the news for being accused of trying to hide cancer research and generally suing the pants off anyone foolish enough to stand in their way. Monsanto makes genetically modified crops and could start making GMO cannabis that would prevent anyone else from using their strains.

So, what could happen when big money comes to play in the recreational marijuana market?

Well, to start, there’s going to be a lot of weed-related legislation as the federal government confronts the growing number of states legalizing recreational weed. This is where big tobacco has a real advantage. They have teams of lobbyists with years of experience in the trenches of DC politics.

Marijuana activist groups have even approached big tobacco for policy-related talks. During those talks, “some tobacco people” indicated they’d like to see legislation limiting who can acquire a license to transport marijuana. While legislation allowing a big tobacco-marijuanogopoly that completely edges out small time players probably won’t pass, behemoth corporations aren’t exactly known for welcoming competition either.

If history is doomed to repeat itself, we may also see tobacco companies marketing marijuana products to children in the not-so-distant future. They did it before successfully with fiery cancer sticks, so how hard could it be for them to do with pot-infused, chocolatey treats?

Apart from the nasty profit-driven practices weaseling their way into an industry built on compassion, there’s some good that can come from serious investment in recreational weed. For instance, we might need the power and influence of bigger players to push legalization to the next level. Besides, even if they stand to make a lot of money, there are big investors who recognize the social benefits that will come from legalization (and an end to absurd marijuana-related incarceration rates.)

Let’s not forget our tech-minded friends. Apart from designing marijuana products that give a more pleasant consumer experience, more investment means more medical research that will help people in need.

 
 Let’s be honest, as shameful as it is to admit, the idea of a marijuana Starbucks is pretty cool.

Let’s be honest, as shameful as it is to admit, the idea of a marijuana Starbucks is pretty cool.

 

Sure, there will be chain stores and financially resourceful companies that undercut the small guys. They’ll profit from the work these humble folks did in pursuit of legalization when no one else would. That’s not necessarily fair, but it’s part of the deal we’ll have to accept for marijuana to become a drug that’s as legal and American as whiskey and tobacco.

The good news is, as a consumer, you can choose who to support when that Mega-Weedmart opens up in your neighborhood. If you have the choice between a Miller Lite at Applebee’s and a craft beer at a local bar, which are you going to choose?

Corporate America might suck, but if they bring us closer to being a society with an alternative to getting wasted every weekend, I say we welcome them.

So come on big business, join the pot party.

Kyle Sparkman