Big Tobacco 2.0 – Big Marijuana

People often ask us what our biggest fear of legalization is.

The answer is simple: Big Pot.

Already in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere, massive special interest groups and lobbies have emerged to protect the marijuana industry.

As soon as Coloradans cast their votes for legalization in 2012, would-be profiteers celebrated the expected green rush. One former Microsoft executive proclaimed that he would create the Starbucks of marijuana and “mint more millionaires than Microsoft.”

A couple of Yale M.B.A.s started a multimillion dollar equity firm dedicated solely to financing the marijuana industry. Indeed, the big business of marijuana was born.

A relentless marijuana lobby insists that these products are not especially attractive to children, yet continues to block controls on advertising, labeling, shape and color.

Like Big Tobacco of yesteryear, Big Marijuana knows that it needs lifelong addicted customers to prosper. Addictive industries generate the lion’s share of their profits from addicts, not casual users. This means that creating addicts is the central goal. And — as every good tobacco executive knows (but won’t tell you) — this, in turn, means targeting the young.

Welcome to Big Tobacco 2.0. In the emerging marijuana industry, potent edibles in the form of colorfully packaged cookies, candies, sodas and brownies are being advertised on the Internet and in mainstream newspapers and magazines across the state. A relentless marijuana lobby insists that these products are not especially attractive to children, yet continues to block controls on advertising, labeling, shape and color. When Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wanted to limit access to marijuana magazines containing cartoon ads and coupons for one dollar joints by placing them behind the counter out of reach of children, the industry sued and won. That was the first of many victories for the marijuana lobby, whose case is buttressed by protections of commercial speech as free speech.

This is not about mom-and-pop pot stores; it’s about, in the words of one “Ganjapreneur,” creating “the Wal-Mart of Marijuana.”

And Big Tobacco is not just an analogy. According to internal documents that the government forced Big Tobacco to release during its historic court settlement, those companies are ready to pounce on the golden opportunity of drug legalization.

It is no wonder that the parent company of Phillip Morris, Altria, recently bought the domain names “AltriaCannabis.com” and “AltriaMarijuana.com.” If this sounds frightening, it should be.

Big Tobacco tried for decades to conceal the harms of their drug, and millions of lives were lost as a result. We are naive to think that this wouldn’t happen with any other drug that is legalized.

Large “cannabusinesses” have already ushered in mass advertising and vending machines. Now with legal cannabis barely in place, they have resorted to product giveaways (really) and they are aggressively embarking on rounds of multimillion-dollar investor fundraising.

In his article entitled “Big Tobacco’s future as Big Marijuana,” Leonid Bershidsky advises investors that, “Big Tobacco is poised to dominate” the legal cannabis market, and for that reason, “Big Tobacco may be one of the biggest opportunities of a lifetime.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why on earth would we want to repeat that debacle with cannabis?