Marlboro-Maker Altria Tinkers With Cannabis Flavors
In new patent applications, Altria and the University of Virginia focus on how to modify cannabis plants to “control the formation of terpenes that impart specific flavor and aroma characteristics.”
Nushin Rashidian, Co-founder of Cannabis Wire.
Tobacco giant Altria continues to carve out its place in the cannabis industry.
While the company has for years filed patent applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) related to vaporizer technology, including several that mention cannabis as well as tobacco, three related applications published on August 4 focus explicitly on the cannabis plant. More specifically, on its “flavor and aroma characteristics.”
One application, titled “Terpene production in plants,” filed by Altria Client Services LLC, which is headquartered in Virginia, and University of Virginia Patent Foundation, details the “composition and methods for the modification of the secondary metabolic functions of glandular trichomes in plants, such as tobacco or Cannabis, that control the formation of terpenes that impart specific flavor and aroma characteristics to the plant leaves are provided.”
Cannabis consumers who note the pine or citrus smells and flavors of their cannabis buds are, in fact, talking about the terpenes.
Why might Altria care about terpenes? “Terpenoid levels in plants such as tobacco and Cannabis can be enhanced and modified by targeted manipulation of gene expression of genes in terpene biosynthetic pathways in order to improve flavor and aroma characteristics of downstream plant-based products,” the application reads.
A related application is titled “Increasing trichome density and improving transport of metabolites in plant trichomes.” How is this related to terpenes? “Terpenoids constitute the largest and most diverse class of plant metabolites,” the application reads.
“The amount of secondary metabolites produced is often tightly correlated to the glandular trichome density present on the plant epidermis,” it continues. “One way to increase the amount of secondary metabolite production in plants is to increase the density of trichomes present on the plant epidermis.”
And a third related application is titled “Tissue-specific promoters in plants.” The connection to the others? “Due to the important role of glandular trichomes in the biosynthesis and secretion of terpenoids, there is a need for the identification of trichome-preferred, or trichome-specific, promoters and associated cis-regulatory elements,” it reads.
Taken together, these patent applications provide the clearest picture yet of Altria’s interests and priorities when it comes to future cannabis products. Altria did not respond to a request for comment.
Altria’s entry into cannabis made headlines in 2019 when it acquired a significant stake in Cronos, a Canadian cannabis company. That year, as Cannabis Wire first reported, Altria became the first big tobacco company to register to lobby on hemp at the federal level.
In 2021, Cannabis Wire found that Altria registered to lobby on cannabis in Virginia, its home state. It marked the first time the company registered to lobby on cannabis in the United States, either at the state or federal level. Specifically, the company lobbied on “Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Cannabis Sales in Virginia.”
At the time, Cannabis Wire also first confirmed Altria’s support for federal cannabis legalization.
“Altria supports the federal legalization of cannabis under an appropriate regulatory framework. 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,” Altria spokesperson George Parman told Cannabis Wire at the time.
“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,” Parman added.
The following month, Altria became a founding member of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), along with alcohol giants like Molson Coors Beverage Company and Constellation Brands, maker of SVEDKA vodka and Corona beer.
Today, Altria’s lobbying footprint on cannabis has grown considerably. Last year, the company noted its lobbying on “discussions in support of the establishment of a comprehensive federal regulatory framework for cannabis.” Now, its lobbying also includes the SAFE Banking Act (and the SAFE Banking provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022), the MORE Act, and the States Reform Act, in addition to several other bills related to CBD and medical cannabis.