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Marlboro-Maker Investing $2.4 Billion in Canadian Cannabis Producer Cronos

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

After the deal is closed, Altria will have the right to nominate four directors, including one independent, to Cronos' board comprising seven directors in total.

The value of publicly-traded Canadian cannabis companies had soared leading up to October 17, when sales of cannabis became legal under rules and regulations established by Ottawa and the provinces.

That will give Altria a 45% ownership interest in Cronos.

When Canada legalized recreational marijuana in October, it emerged as the world leader in the industry - and US companies are scrambling to get in on the action.

"Investing in Cronos Group as our exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis category represents an exciting new growth opportunity for Altria", said Howard Willard, Altria's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Marijuana, while still illegal on the federal level in the USA, is now allowed in an increasing number of states, while Canada now represents a large laboratory for the nascent industry. On Tuesday, ultra-conservative Utah became the latest state to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes.

Tobacco giant Altria (MO) is jumping on the cannabis bandwagon. Peers in the marijuana sector also gained, with Aurora Cannabis Inc. rising as much as 11 percent, Aphria Inc. adding 14 percent, Canopy Growth Corp. rising 7.3 percent and Tilray Inc. gaining 4.8 percent. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

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

Coca Cola bottle and glass on picnic table
Coca Cola bottle and glass on picnic table

Canadian marijuana company, Canopy Growth, for example, has received a multibillion dollar investment from Corona owner Constellation Brands, CNN reported.

Investors seem to be betting that more deals could be coming.

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

Altria will acquire 146.2 million Cronos shares at a price of CA$16.25 per share, representing a 41.5% premium to the 10-day average price ending November 30, the last unaffected trading day before Cronos publicly disclosed discussions with Altria.

Prior to Friday's announcement, Cronos had confirmed reports that it was in talks with Altria.

The deal structure was driven by an appetite on Cronos' part to entertain discussions with other parties, although it is not guaranteed that any future discussions will result in product partnerships or new deals, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Gorenstein said that Altria has "decades of experience in regulatory, government affairs, compliance, product development and brand management that we expect to leverage, particularly as new markets for cannabis open around the world".

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