Movement to Legalise Marijuana and the Tobacco Industry

From TobaccoUnmasked


Marijuana or Cannabis is an addictive substance, illegal in many countries of the world. However, certain countries and/ or states have started the process of legalising marijuana. By late 2016, 25 state governments in the USA have permitted cannabis use for medical purposes, while Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska and Washington DC have permitted recreational cannabis use. Canada was planning to legalise cannabis use, while Uruguay has made significant progress in implementing a model of state monopoly for cannabis. Australia, Czech Republic, France, Jamaica and Mexico have plans to allow use of cannabis for medical purposes.[1]

Role of the Tobacco Industry in Legalising Marijuana

Tobacco Companies Interest in Cannabis

Investigations revealed internal tobacco documents showing tobacco industry has been interested in cannabis as both a potential and a rival product from 1970s or before. According to them, tobacco industry started preparations to supply the potential commercial demand as signs of cannabis legalisation started to appear.[2]

According to an investigation conducted by The Daily Caller News Foundation, in the context of declining cigarette smoking, multinational tobacco companies have recognised cannabis as a product of significant interest due to three reasons:[3]

  • New Market” – Tobacco industry can make use of the established market of cannabis users, by using the branding strategy they used for cigarettes such as ‘Marlboro Man’. Well-defined brands will attract and sustain a group of users loyal to the brands, ensuring a sustainable market.
  • Redeem Smoking” - Tobacco smoking will be de-stigmatised to a certain degree as most popular method of using cannabis is via smoking.
  • Big Profits” - Tobacco companies who have started buying electronic cigarette manufacturing companies, will be able to make more profits as these appliances can be readily used to smoke cannabis.

Tobacco Companies Funding Marijuana Lobby

Evidence has emerged that the new cannabis industry and their lobbyists have received funding from the tobacco industry.[4] Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the main group campaigning to legalise cannabis in USA accepted it received funding and support from tobacco companies. Rob Kampia, MPP’s Executive Director, admitted that tobacco companies got interested because of the proposed oligopoly in the business. MPP publicly acknowledged receiving USD 50,000 from Wild Bill’s Tobacco, “a chain of smoke shops”.[5][4]

Imperial Brands’ Investment in Cannabis

In July 2018 Imperial Brands PLC (former Imperial Tobacco) made the first formal investment in Cannabis industry. The Imperial Brands’ subsidiary Imperial Brands Ventures Ltd (Fontem Ventures) made the investment on the British medical marijuana research firm Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT) with Casa Verde, a seed investment firm backed by the rap musician Snoop Dogg.[6] Media reports noted that the investment was made a year after Imperial named an expert in medicinal cannabis to its board of directors and three days after the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a cannabis-based drug to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.[6][7][8]

Sri Lankan Experience

Promotion in Social Media

Facebook and other social media are well known to have been used in the campaign to legalise and commercialise cannabis. The Guardian reported that Facebook administration actively prevent cannabis promotion.[9] However a search on Facebook using the term ‘කංසා', meaning cannabis in local language (Sinhala), yielded names of five profiles on 07th August 2017. The example of a once such profile is shown in image 1.

Image 1: Capture of the Facebook page Susthikaraya promoting cannabis use[10]

Health Minister’s Plans to Cultivate Cannabis

Image 2: Ada newspaper reporting Health Minister’s plans to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes[11]

Media reported that Ministry of Health is planning to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes in three instances after the government was established in January 2015.

  • January 2016 (Image 2) - Mawbima (මව්බිම) and Ada (අද), two national newspapers in Sinhala language reported that Minister of Health Rajitha Senarathne declared that Health Ministry has plans to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes. The reports were quoting a speech made by the Minister at an open ceremony of an Ayurvedic Resort and a Spa (Vendol Resort Wadduwa) of a private pharmaceutical company for Ayurveda drugs (Vendol Lanka Pvt. Ltd). Both papers reported it in the first page.[12][11]
  • May 2016 - In May 2016, two national newspapers in Sinhala language (Ada & Lankadeepa) quoted Minister of Health at an event of Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation and reported plans on cultivating cannabis for medical purposes.[13][14]
  • August 2017- Mawbima again reported on 17th August that Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous medicine is planning a cannabis cultivation project in a 100 Acre land. According to the article, the aim is to supply the indigenous medical practitioners with adequate amounts and export the rest to the European countries. The project planned to utilise Sri Lanka Army Forces to cultivate cannabis under high security conditions.[15]

The same newspaper on the same date reported that Minister of Health, Rajitha Senaratne instructed the police in a divisional coordination meeting held on 14th August to take immediate measures to stop the illicit Indian Cannabis trade that exists with the help of bribed police officers and politicians.[16]

  • September 2017 - Local and international media quoting Minister of Health reported the launch of a 100 Acre cannabies cultivation in Ingiriya, which is an area of Ministers electorate. Cultivated under high security provided by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, estimated production was 25 tonnes per year. According to the Minister, what's-left after utilisation for local Ayurvedic purposes will be exported to USA.[17][18]
Image 3: Past Chairman of SLADC criticizing Minister of Health for misinforming the public on SLADC spending money on cannabis.[19]

Criticism against Minister of Health’s Plans (Image 3)

A past Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation (SLADC), Somaweera Chandrasiri, criticised Health Minister’s statement in another national newspaper, Divayina (දිවයින) in January 2016, two days after the initial statement of the Minister. According to him, SLADC has never imported cannabis from India and does not have to spend money on buying cannabis because the cannabis seized during raids are donated to SLADC.[19]

Image 4: The author Weliange, presenting the book on Cannabis to a famous musician in Sri Lanka (Nadeeka Guruge) in the book launch.[20]

A Book Launched on Cannabis (Image 4)

In August 2017, a book on cannabis in Sinhala, titled ‘Thriloka Vijaya Pathraya’ by Wasantha Weliange, was launched in Colombo. The author, a Sri Lankan employed by a Nigerian University for the preceding five years, claimed he wanted to “give the right place to cannabis” and suggested “Sri Lanka should decide on starting cannabis production”. The book launch received wide coverage in public and social media.[21][22][23][24]

Chinthana Dharmadasa, a personal blogger in Sri Lanka speaking positively about cannabis in the book launch stated that it was due to USA the cannabis use was illegalised. He further declared that canbis use should be legalised and destigmatised in Sri Lanka.[25]

The local language translations



  1. T Subritzky, S Lenton, S. Pettigrew. Legal cannabis industry adopting strategies of the tobacco industry. ‘’’Drug and Alcohol Review’’’, 2016; 35: 511–513. doi: 10.1111/dar.12459
  2. RA Barry, H Hiilamo, SA Glantz. Waiting for the Opportune Moment: The Tobacco Industry and Marijuana Legalization. Milbank Quarterly, 2014; 92: 207–242. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.12055
  3. R Pollock. Three Biggest Reasons Tobacco Giants Eye Lucrative $50 Billion Marijuana Market, The Daily Caller News Foundation, 01 April 2016, accessed August 2017
  4. 4.0 4.1 KA Sabet. Marijuana Lobby Admits Tobacco Industry Executives Pay-to-Play, 07 June 2017, accessed August 2017
  5. Marijuana Business Daily. MPP chief ready to barter for marijuana campaign donations, 28 April 2017, accessed August 2017
  6. 6.0 6.1 S Williams. Big Tobacco Makes Its First Investment in the Marijuana Industry Motley Fool, 22 July 2018, accessed November 2018
  7. M Geller. Imperial Brands invests in cannabis-based medical research, Reuters, 28 June 2018, accessed November 2018
  8. BBC News. [
  9. The Guardian. Facebook cracks down on marijuana firms with dozens of accounts shut down, 17 February 2016, accessed August 2017
  10. Facebook. Susthikaraya, 25 August 2017, accessed August 2017
  11. 11.0 11.1 SS Kathriarachchi. රාජිත කංසා වවයි, Ada, 04 January 2016
  12. Mawbima. දෙශීය වෙදකමට කංසා වවන්න රාජිත සැරසෙයි. 04 January 2016
  13. Lankadeepa. කංසා වගාව නංවා අපනයනය කිරීමට පියවර ගන්නවා: ඇමති රාජිත කියයි. 12 May 2016, accessed August 2017
  14. N Ranasinghe. කංසා වවා අපනයනයට පියවර. Ada, 12 May 2016, accessed August 2017
  15. D Perera. අක්කර සීයක ගංජා වවයි, Mawbima, 17 August 2017
  16. W Kumara. කේරළ ගංජා ජාවාරම නතර කරන්න ඇමති රාජිතගෙන් උපදෙස්, Mawbima, 17 August 2017
  17. H Pavey. Sri Lanka launches first cannabis plantation to export to the US, Evening Standard, 14 September 2017, accessed September 2017
  18. The Indian Express. Sri Lanka to export cannabis from first plantation, 13th September 2017, accessed September 2017
  19. 19.0 19.1 D Lankapura. ආයුර්වේද සංස්ථාවට කිසිදා ඉන්දියාවෙන් ගංජා ගෙනත් නෑ. Divayina, 06 January 2016
  20. Sri Lanka Association of Anthropology Facebook page. KANSA – Book launch eke photos – share karamu, 02 August 2017, accessed August 2017
  21. Dinamina. ත්රෛලෝක්යවිජයා කතා කරන්නේ කන්සාවල ඇත්ත, 02 August 2017, accessed August 2017
  22. Divayina. ගංජාවලට අපිව බය කළේ ඇමරිකාව මට ඕනෑ ඒ බය නැති කරන්න, 06 August 2017, accessed August 2017
  23. W Weliange, Curriculum Vitae, University of Kelaniya, undated, accessed August 2017
  24. W Weliange. Wasantha’s Activity, LinkedIn Profile, 2017, accessed August 2017
  25. C Dharmadasa. Dharmadasa Videos, Facebook, 02 August 2017, accessed August 2017