marijuana

The marijuana plant

Henrico-based tobacco giant Altria has registered to lobby on marijuana legalization in Virginia — a first for the company at the state or federal level, according to a cannabis industry trade publication.

A disclosure filed with the state last month says the company retained Williams Mullen’s Elizabeth Rafferty to lobby on issues “related to the responsible and equitable regulation of cannabis sales in Virginia.” The filing was first reported by Cannabis Wire.

While Altria hasn’t lobbied in support of legalization in the United States before, it’s made its interest in the industry clear, purchasing a stake in the Canadian recreational marijuana business Cronos and collecting cannabis-related patents.

An Altria spokesman, George Parman, told Cannabis Wire that the company supports national legalization: “As a stakeholder in this industry we intend to work with policy makers and regulators in support of a transparent, responsible and equitable operating environment for the sale of cannabis. This is essential for both Altria as an industry stakeholder headquartered in the commonwealth and for our diverse employee base who, as community stakeholders, are dedicated to making Virginia a great place to live and work.”

Any advocacy work the company is doing in Virginia is taking place behind the scenes; so far no company representatives have spoken during the numerous public hearings on the issue.

The House and Senate both passed legalization legislation Friday, but big differences remain between the two chambers’ bills that lawmakers will need to work out in the coming weeks for the bill to make it to Gov. Ralph Northam.

One issue still under debate is how far the state should go to discourage big companies from dominating the new market. The House version of the bill prohibits cannabis companies from obtaining licenses to both grow and retail the products. The Senate version allows companies to hold different types of licenses, but charges a $1 million fee.

Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, have frequently pointed to the country’s history with tobacco as they argued against the legislation, accusing the marijuana industry of putting sales and profit over public health.

“For years we have warned that the expansion of the marijuana industry would metastasize into the second coming of Big Tobacco, and more and more this has come true over time,” said Kevin Sabot, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

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