Context: In 2012, Washington State and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and Uruguay, beginning in 2014, will become the first country to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana. The challenge facing policymakers and public health advocates is reducing the harms of an ineffective, costly, and discriminatory "war on drugs" while preventing another public health catastrophe similar to tobacco use, which kills 6 million people worldwide each year.
Methods: Between May and December 2013, using the standard snowball research technique, we searched the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library of previously secret tobacco industry documents (http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu).
Findings: Since at least the 1970s, tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana and marijuana legalization as both a potential and a rival product. As public opinion shifted and governments began relaxing laws pertaining to marijuana criminalization, the tobacco companies modified their corporate planning strategies to prepare for future consumer demand.
Conclusions: Policymakers and public health advocates must be aware that the tobacco industry or comparable multinational organizations (eg, food and beverage industries) are prepared to enter the marijuana market with the intention of increasing its already widespread use. In order to prevent domination of the market by companies seeking to maximize market size and profits, policymakers should learn from their successes and failures in regulating tobacco.
Keywords: cigarettes; marijuana; public policy; tobacco industry.
© 2014 Milbank Memorial Fund.