Tobacco giant Altria made a very public splash with its $1.8 billion investment in recreational cannabis in 2019. Since buying in, the company has been much more quietly trying to claim a long-term stake in the marijuana industry by patenting cannabis technology, public records show.
In late February of this year, Altria, the parent company of cigarette brands including Marlboro and Parliament, filed two patent applications for vaporizer devices specifically designed for cannabis, according to United States Patent and Trademark Office filings.
The company is also the current owner on two older vaporizer patents from the same inventor filed earlier and acquired through a sale, a company spokesman said. Those patents also specifically mention cannabis.
The Altria cannabis devices have temperature controls meant to allow consumers to vaporize THC or CBD. The two best-known cannabinoids in marijuana—both of which have specific medical applications, according to recent research—also have different release points.
Altria has long acknowledged that tobacco consumption is declining and has sought to diversify its offerings.
Experts contacted for this article say the patents show how Altria is considering a more direct play in the marijuana market, and may be preparing for a future in which cannabis is a federal Food and Drug Administration-regulated commodity—just like tobacco.
George Parman, an Altria spokesman, declined to discuss the company’s specific plans for entering the cannabis market.
Altria paid $1.8 billion for a 45 percent stake in Cronos Group, a publicly traded company based in Canada, where marijuana is federally legal. So far, Cronos has made only limited incursions into the United States, dabbling in the hemp and CBD markets. Altria still has an option to buy a majority stake in Cronos.