TORONTO (AP) — Curiosity from one the world's largest tobacco companies about the marijuana business sent shares of a Canadian cannabis company higher at the opening bell Tuesday.

Cronos Group confirmed talks late Monday with Marlboro maker Altria about a possible investment. Altria Group Inc., based in Richmond, Virginia, owns Philip Morris USA, the largest cigarette maker in the United States.

It is not the first major U.S. company to explore the field, and may be among the best positioned as far as infrastructure goes to become directly involved in sales if the shift toward legalization continues.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana use this year and in the U.S., the trend is moving in that direction on the state level.

More U.S. companies appear to be more willing to entertain entry into the marijuana business as it becomes more established in Canada and in the U.S.

Tilray Inc., a medical marijuana company in British Columbia, became the first cannabis business to begin trading publicly this year on a major U.S. stock exchange. Its market value is quickly approaching $10 billion, about the same as The Gap or Macy's.

Altria is not the first major U.S. corporation to explore the market. In August Constellation Brands Inc., the beverage company that owns everything from Corona beer and Manischewitz wine, strengthened its partnership with Canadian pot producer Canopy Growth Corp. and within the last year has increased its stake in the company to 38 percent.

Questions about marijuana are starting to pop up in corporate conference calls at companies as large as Coca-Cola Co.

Shares of Cronos Group Inc., based in Toronto, rose 5 percent in early trading Tuesday.

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