“Many regard marihuana as an alternate, and perhaps a superior, method of satisfying the needs that cigarette smoking satisfies,” as the 1970 Philip Morris internal company memo obtained decades later by tobacco-industry researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reads.

The context was an earlier inquiry from the federal Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. The agency asked if Philip Morris would help provide a chemical analysis of cannabis smoke. The company was weighing whether to comply. The answer, the memo author argued, was obvious: “In this situation, business theory strongly suggests that we should learn as much as possible about this threat to our present product.”

How much of a threat marijuana truly presented to a highly addictive product already used by nearly 40 percent of American adults is unclear, but cigarette-makers took notice. Philip Morris and its competitors, British American Tobacco and RJ Reynolds, all considered entering the weed game at various times, according to other internal documents unearthed by UCSF.

As it happened, the government intervened, to tobacco companies’ benefit. Later that same year, Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act. By 1973, the smallish narcotics bureau was replaced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, a global police force that would wage what Nixon described as “an all-out global war on the drug menace.”

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