GMO Marlboro Marijuana May Be Reality
By David Heldreth
Philip Morris International Owns GMO Cannabis Patent, Stake in Cannabis Inhaler Company
Years of gossip throughout the cannabis community about genetically modified cannabis and Big Tobacco may turn out to be true based on a newly revealed patent. Recent investigation by the Cannabiz Journal discovered patent number US20080281135A1, filed in 2005 and entitled “System for Producing Terpenoids in Plants,” which outlines the creation of transgenic or GMO plants for the purpose of increasing terpenoid production. The seemingly innocuous patent covers terpenoids—which include all cannabinoids and terpenes—and spells out that the inventor includes plants from the family Cannabaceae and Cannabis sativa. In addition, patent US20140290135A1 is for improvements to systems to create GMO plants. Both patents are owned by Philip Morris Products SA, a Switzerland-based subsidiary of Philip Morris International.
The patents and their connection to Philip Morris were missed for years due to a complicated set of circumstances. First, the company filed the US patent in 2005 and assigned it to the aforementioned subsidiary in Switzerland. Then in 2007 the company completed a restructuring where Philip Morris US and Philip Morris International were separated into two companies, with Philip Morris US being held under the new name Altria, which coincidentally is a form of “high” in Latin.
Since then, Brian May, spokesperson for Altria—which controls the Marlboro and Parliament brands through its subsidiary Philip Morris USA—is quoted in a Vice article as saying, “Our position is marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and Altria’s companies have no plans to sell marijuana-based products.”
Technically May wasn’t withholding anything; his company has no cannabis holdings. They previously held that patent, but due to the separation in 2007 Altria doesn’t have any investment in cannabis. I was reminded of that by an unknown spokesperson who took questions and contact information at Altria, despite the company not returning a call or responding to email for comment. Philip Morris International also didn’t return emails to their media department. However, Altria and Philip Morris International do have licensing deals between them for sharing intellectual property, so it is possible this patent would fall under one of those deals. The two companies are also rumored to be considering a merger following the British American Tobacco $49.4 billion buyout of RJ Reynolds in 2016.
Altria may be temporarily sitting out of the cannabis market, but Philip Morris International doesn’t appear to have any such qualms. PMI moved forward with a $20 million deal for part of Syqe Medical, an Israel-based company developing cannabis inhalers. Philip Morris was also found to be active in studying the contents, effects and marketability of cannabis with the FDA and DOJ since the 1960s, according to data found in internal memos released through lawsuits with the tobacco industry and housed at the University of California, San Francisco’s Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Visit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089369/ for more.
It will be interesting to see how the federal government may react to an Altria and Philip Morris International merger due to the connections to cannabis business and intellectual property. Only time will tell.
Special to the Cannabiz Journal