Marlboro cigarette maker places a $2.4-billion bet on marijuana

An employee tends to marijuana plants at the Aurora Cannabis facility in Edmonton Alberta one of Canada’s largest marijuana companies

Big Tobacco Company Altria Takes Major Stake in Canadian Cannabis Firm Cronos Group

Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group Inc announced a $1.8 billion investment in Cronos Group Inc on Friday, which could give it up to 55-percent ownership of the Canadian cannabis producer.

The transaction between the two publicly traded companies represents a 45 percent equity stake in Cronos Group at a price of $16.25 (CAD) per share for an aggregate investment by Altria of approximately Dollars $1.8 billion.

For others, however, the investments mark the beginning of the end for the independent cannabis industry as Big Tobacco and Alcohol, which have fought against cannabis legalization for decades, start to take over the market.

The transaction is expected to finalize within the first half of 2019.

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The biggest companies have avoided investing in USA cannabis businesses, which are legal in a handful of states, because of the federal prohibition on the drug.

However, the global cannabis opportunity remains "large and untapped", said Vivien Azer, an analyst with Cowen.

— Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch and Guinness brewer Diageo haven't jumped in yet, but have said they're watching closely as the market for cannabis and its extracts evolves.

Altria, the parent company of Ste.

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In June, British tobacco giant Imperial Brands was among investors taking a stake in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, a United Kingdom-based medical cannabis startup.

The Canadian subsidiary of Molson Coors (TAP) has a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corporation to produce cannabis-infused drinks for the Canadian market. The offer represents a 16.2-percent premium to the stock's Thursday close on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

It will also acquire warrants that will allow Altria to buy more stock at $19 per share within four years. The new relationship represents an "exciting new growth opportunity" and Cronos is backed by an "excellent management team". Altria will make Cronos its exclusive partner for all world-wide cannabis-related investments, with some limited exceptions.

"Altria is the ideal partner for Cronos Group, providing the resources and expertise we need to meaningfully accelerate our strategic growth", Mike Gorenstein, Cronos's chairman and chief executive officer said in a statement.

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