Marlboro maker places $1.8 billion bet on marijuana

A look at medical marijuana cannabis

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.

Atria, formerly Philip Morris, makes the move after watching its stock tumble 25 percent this year and outlook on the company's growth projected at about one percent this year and 2019.

Altria's Chairman and CEO Howard Willard said Cronos will serve as the company's exclusive partner in the global cannabis category.

The purchase is the second involving a big-money deal connected with a Canadian marijuana company in recent months.

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Altria's huge investment lit up shares of cannabis companies that have begun to set up shop in Canada, where recreational use was legalized this year.

Gorenstein added that Cronos will use the investment from Altria to expand its distribution and infrastructure around the world and also boost its investments in research and development for new brands and products. That is a 16.2% premium over the stock's Thursday close, according to Reuters. This week, Aphria Inc., one of the country's largest cannabis growers, was defending itself against accusations of striking deals to enrich insiders made in a widely read short-sellers' report.

During the US midterm elections, MI became the latest state to approval the legalization of recreational cannabis and Utah and Missouri approved the drug for medical purposes. Investors, meanwhile, have been pouring money into cannabis companies that operate in multiple USA states, pivoting away from Canada. First and foremost, Cronos will have a much healthier balance sheet in the wake of this deal - enabling it to accelerate the build-out of its production facilities and perhaps even start making some fairly large acquisitions of its own.

In August, alcohol giant Constellation Brands said it would invest an additional $5 billion in Canadian pot producer Canopy Growth Corp., increasing its stake to 38 per cent.

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The Canadian subsidiary of Molson Coors (TAP) has a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corporation to produce cannabis-infused drinks for the Canadian market.

It will also acquire warrants that will allow Altria to buy more stock at $19 per share within four years.

Separately Altria also said it would discontinue some of its e-cigarette brands, including all of MarkTen and Green Smoke e-vaper products, based on their financial performance and will take a related pretax charge of US$200 million in the fourth quarter.

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