Big Tobacco Is Eyeing Big Cannabis: Acquisitions, Intellectual Property, and Lobbying

One of the world’s largest tobacco companies is expanding to include cannabis in its portfolio of consumer goods. Virginia-based Altria began its cannabis pursuit in 2019 after it acquired a 45% stake in Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group for $1.8B. Since then, Altria has developed its own proprietary devices for use with cannabis – in fact, a total of 4 patent applications published on June 1, 2021 related to a non-nicotine vape device that utilizes pods. Each patent application covers a component of the vape device from its pod design and function to the vape device itself. These recent publications bring Altria’s patent portfolio to a total of 3 patent assets and 19 patent applications all related to vape devices. Just as every razor needs its blades, so the relationship between vapes and pods will go – making it a lucrative path to take into the cannabis industry and one Altria knows is successful through Juul Labs. In an effort to reach cannabis legalization much sooner, Altria has also begun lobbying at the federal and state levels. 

Based on recent federal filings for 2020, Altria has engaged one of the United States’ top cannabis law firms Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to lobby the House for tax reforms involving cannabis. A total of $30,000 was paid to three of the firm’s attorneys in the fourth quarter of 2020. In a bid to amend current CBD policy, Altria paid another $50,000 to two lobbyists from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a lobbying firm with a cannabis branch, to discuss changes to hemp-based CBD policy with the Senate. And now in an effort for state legalization, Altria announced in January 2021 that it will be a part of the “Equitable Regulation of Cannabis Sales in Virginia” lobbying forum. 

There’s no question now that Big Tobacco wants in on cannabis. They will have some competition to face, especially in the vape devices space which is the fourth most pursued avenue in the cannabis industry. The second largest assignee in cannabis, Lunatech, LLC, boasts a giant portfolio related to cannabis vape devices that Altria can take a look at and aspire to either take over through acquisition or design around. Altria already has some control over Pax Labs, a subsidiary of Juul Labs dealing with cannabis smoking devices, that it may look to partner with. (Altria has a 35% stake in Juul Labs). Pax Labs has developed an extensive portfolio around cannabis vape devices with 24 patent assets to date, 20 of which are design patents. In the last three years, Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth has taken an interest in vape devices for cannabis and leads in the most filings in this category for the last three years. We’ll be reporting on the road Altria takes in its pursuit of adding cannabis products to its consumer goods. Stay connected through the Cannabis Patent Forecast®. Start your trial today!