Earnest efforts to decriminalize cannabis in the US have emerged alongside the storied decline and fall of Big Tobacco. On Nov. 4, 1996, Californians voted yes on Proposition 215, affirming majority support of medical cannabis in The Golden State.
Prop. 215’s success had a trickle-down effect, inspiring the expansive evolution of American cannabis policy. By the close of 1998—just two years later—the four largest American tobacco companies had signed onto the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, incurring stricter regulation and higher taxes and mandating massive reparative payments amid dwindling profit.
From its headquarters near Richmond, Va., Altria announced its acquisition of nearly half of Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group for $1.8 billion on Dec. 7. As reported by The New York Times, et. al, Altria—formerly known as Philip Morris—now owns a 45 percent stake in Cronos with an option to take on controlling interest (55 percent) by 2022.
For scale, Altria’s investment of $1.8 billion in Cronos only accounts for one percent of the company’s annual corporate cash flow. Altria’s cigarette legacy—operational knowledge, experience and relevant technology—bodes well for the transition to sale and distribution of similarly sized mainstream recreational cannabis brands.
Until now, efforts to transform American cannabis law have been shackled by grassroots funding and know-how. But Altria’s cigarette legacy also means top-notch lobbyists. Forward-looking copywriters have long tried to predict what the Marlboro man might look like when stoned off his gourd. That future is here.
Writing for WIRED, Matt Simon sums up the rather limited “dark side” of adult recreational and medical cannabis use, differentiating dependence from addiction and noting its relative safety as a drug. But as Smith notes, there’s still a lot we just don’t know.
“... In the grand scheme of drugs, cannabis is nowhere near as risky as opioids. But because of prohibition, scientists have been hindered in their ability to gather knowledge of how cannabis works on the human body, and how different doses affect different people ... Once acquired, those insights can inform how people should be using the drug.”
Recent cannabis science has revealed that men and women are differently affected by cannabis thanks to hormonal interaction. It also shows that until our mid-twenties, the developing human brain is more vulnerable to negative effects, including a less-developed (read: smaller) amygdala and hippocampus, parts of the brain that activate memory storage and regulate emotions. Now that prohibition is ending, we can finally get to work on the science.