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After keeping its distance from cannabis, Marlboro-maker Philip Morris International Inc. is beginning to take a closer look at the suddenly hot market.
The company is assessing factors like the toxicity of cannabis, efficacy and differences between pharmaceutical and consumer options, Chief Executive Officer Andre Calantzopoulos told Bloomberg News Tuesday. The company is still analyzing the industry because the market is so young and there isn’t robust regulation yet, he said.
“We are doing all this work and will determine one day what avenues to pursue,” he said in an interview. “But our priority is what we’re doing with our smoke-free products, and that’s where I would stay on cannabis.”
The comments hint at a possible shift for a company that has kept to the sidelines of the marijuana market, even as other cigarette companies have jumped in. Altria Group Inc., which sells Marlboros in the U.S., announced an investment in 2018 in Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group Inc.; earlier this year British American Tobacco Plc took a stake in Organigram Holdings Inc.
Philip Morris invested five years ago in an Israeli medical cannabis company, Syqe Medical, but that wasn’t tied directly to marijuana products. The small deal was intended to secure the exclusive global rights to technology for high-precision dosing for smoke-free tobacco products and nicotine applications, Philip Morris spokesman Corey Henry said.
If Philip Morris opts to pursue cannabis, it could be part of the company’s “Beyond Nicotine” strategy, which includes adding botanicals to expand risk-reduced products with new flavors like cloves, star anise or chamomile. Areas of opportunity could also include sleep aid, energy or calm control, the company said at an investor day in February.