Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group is in early talks to acquire Canadian cannabis producer Cronos Group, as it seeks to diversify its business beyond traditional smokers, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Canada this year legalized recreational use of marijuana and is seen as a testing ground for pot companies that expect to expand globally as other countries follow suit.
Cronos has not agreed to any deal and there is no certainty it will do so, the sources said. The discussions between Cronos and Altria are expected to last for several weeks, one of the sources added.
The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Altria did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Cronos declined to comment.
Cronos shares listed on the Nasdaq rose 23 percent, to $11.32, in Monday afternoon trading after Reuters reported on the deal talks, giving Cronos a market value of more than $2 billion.
Other Canadian cannabis stocks also jumped. Tilray shares rose 4 percent, while New Age Beverages shares soared 10 percent.
A deal would mark one of the largest combinations between mainstream tobacco and the booming but volatile marijuana sector, which has seen interest from a variety of major consumer companies that are monitoring the industry for disruptive threats and faster-growing product possibilities.
In June, London-based tobacco company Imperial Brands took an undisclosed stake in closely held Oxford Cannabinoid. Constellation Brands announced a $3.8 billion investment in Canopy Growth in August, while Coca-Cola said in September it was watching the space for alliances that could potentially help it develop products containing cannabinoid oil.