Back in 2018, Tobacco giant Altria invested $1.8 billion in Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group. The very public investment gave Altria a 45% stake in the Canadian firm with an option to increase its stake to 55% over the next five years. Since then, the company, which is the parent firm for cigarette brands like Malboro and Parliament, has been trying to increase its stake in the nascent marijuana industry behind the scenes by patenting cannabis technology.
According to records from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Altria filed two patents for vaporizer devices specifically designed for cannabis in late February this year. It also owns two older vaporizer patents from the same inventor filed before Altria bought a stake in Cronos and Cronos got those patents through a sale, a company spokesman said. Designed by Israel-based inventor Youseff Raichman, the vaporizers have temperature controls meant to allow customers to vaporize and dose THC or CBD.
At the moment, Altria hasn’t made great inroads into the American market, with its efforts being restricted to dabbling in the hemp and CBD markets. Still, the four cannabis-based patents the company has filed so far show that it is serious about investing in marijuana as a new growth area, especially as the sales of traditional cigarettes decline. However, like most firms in the cannabis space, Altria’s investment suffered during the pandemic, losing roughly one-third of its value.
Altria spokesman George Parman points out that although the device descriptions specifically mention cannabis, the company is attempting to patent them as plant “agnostic.” This means they could be used to vaporize other plants, such as loose-leaf tobacco. He adds that the devices will not be on the market any time soon, noting that the company did not submit the devices to the US Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) before a September 9 deadline for “tobacco products.”
The patents for dosing THC and CBD can be extremely useful in the medical cannabis market and if they are awarded, could be quite lucrative for the firm, especially if cannabis is ever removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and made available under a doctor’s prescription.
“It would make sense that Altria would seek patents for dosing and other medical applications as it would help them gain any regulatory approval where applicable in the future,” says Dominick Volpini, vice president of Cloudious 9, a California based company that makes vaporizers. “At some point in the future, the FDA will approve a cannabis vaporizer, after federal regulation changes, and most likely it will be a medically focused device with dosing capabilities.”
It would be interesting to get the views of cannabis industry players like Pure Extract Technologies Inc. regarding the strategic direction that Altria has chosen to take.
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