Archives from 1970s show Big Tobacco had high hopes for cannabis

Philip Morris considered entering the legal marijuana trade and was even promised 'good quality' cannabis by the Justice Department’s drug sciences chief

us correspondent

Big Tobacco firms were making plans to enter the legal marijuana trade in the early 1970s, even as US President Richard Nixon launched the so-called “War on Drugs”, according to documents from the era unearthed this week.

Though the Nixon administration was anti-drugs, there was popular support for marijuana legalisation in the US at the time, much like today, and tobacco firms sensed both a threat and an opportunity.

In one unsigned internal memo from the archives of the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, an executive argued for research into cannabis, saying: “We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pickup for people who are bored or depressed. The only real threat to our business is society will find other means of satisfying those needs.”

The firm even requested a study sample of marijuana from the US Department of Justice, and promised to share the results of the research with the Government – as long as the involvement of Philip Morris remained secret. Milton Joffee, the Justice Department’s drug sciences chief, agreed to provide the firm with “good quality” cannabis.

In 1970, the head science adviser for another major firm, British American Tobacco, drew up plans for the production of “cannabis-loaded cigarettes”. Charles Ellis wrote in a memo that marijuana use was a “natural expansion of current smoking habits… much like moving to cigars.” The challenge, he went on, was “to learn how to produce in quantity cigarettes loaded uniformly with a known amount of either ground cannabis or dried and cut cannabis rag”.

The documents were found among 80 million pages of tobacco firm archives, stored at the University of California, San Francisco. The researchers’ findings were published today in the Milbank Quarterly, a health policy journal.

During the 1970s, several US states decriminalised marijuana possession for personal use, but the momentum towards legalisation was reversed by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Recently, Colorado and Washington states both legalised the drug for recreational use, as well as Uruguay.

Should legalisation spread, there is speculation tobacco firms may consider expanding into the cannabis market, though the firms in question have issued denials. British American Tobacco said: “The 1970s were a long time ago. Today, we have no interest whatsoever in participating in the marijuana market.” The health policy researchers behind the study say tobacco firms made similar claims in the 1970s, even as they were secretly laying the groundwork for marijuana legalisation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border