I am writing today about a somewhat mysterious man who has spent tens of millions of dollars to try to prop up marijuana prohibition.
In fact, he has become the big fish in the anti-marijuana funding world. His name is Sheldon Adelson, and he is an 82-year-old Las Vegas casino owner (The Sands, The Venetian, and The Palazzo). He is reportedly worth $29 billion, making him the 12th-richest person in America.
Adelson once made the late website Gawker’s “Billionaire Shit List,” which called him “evil” for “spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get extreme right-wingers in office.” And he should be on our “sh*t list” as well for spending funds on prohibition, which as a policy has resulted in the needless arrest of more than 26 million Americans over the last 40 years.
Adelson was also the principal financial backer of Freedom Watch, a now-defunct political advocacy group founded to counter the influence of George Soros, the largest pro-legalization funder in the country, and liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. Freedom Watch spent $30 million of Adelson’s money in 2008 before fading into oblivion.
In 2014, Adelson gave $5.5 million to the Drug Free Florida campaign to help defeat the medical use initiative and has given another $1.5 million to fight the pending medical use initiative this year, with more likely to follow. He also just donated $1 million to the group opposing the legalization initiative on the ballot in Massachusetts.
In his home state of Nevada, where a full legalization initiative is on the ballot for this upcoming election, Adelson has donated $2 million to oppose the initiative. He recently purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million, since then the paper withdrew its prior endorsement of marijuana legalization for the state.
One cannot help but wonder what would motivate an individual to want to continue a failed public policy that results in the needless arrest of so many of our fellow citizens. In Adelson’s case, it was apparently a personal family tragedy. His 48-year-old son, Mitchell, died in 2005 of a drug overdose involving cocaine and heroin. Another son, Gary, has also struggled with drug addiction and is allegedly estranged from his father altogether. Adelson has said he sees marijuana as a “gateway drug” that led to his sons’ problems.
Of course, the so-called “gateway theory” has long since been refuted by serious scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (“There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other drugs.”) and the Rand Corporation (“While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.”)
And the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction recently reached this same conclusion: “As for a possible switch from cannabis to hard drugs, it is clear that the pharmacological properties of cannabis are irrelevant in this respect. There is no physically determined tendency towards switching from marijuana to harder substances. Social factors, however, do appear to play a role. The more users become integrated in an environment (“subculture”) where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chance that they may switch to hard drugs. Separation of the drug markets is therefore essential.”
In addition, those drug users who do end up using heroin or other far more dangerous drugs seldom start with marijuana. Rather recent research shows it is alcohol that is the first drug used in string of drugs leading to eventual addition, not marijuana.
One can surely sympathize with the sense of loss for any parent who experiences the death of a child, regardless of the cause. But these and other scientific findings suggest that If more jurisdictions legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol — thereby allowing its sale to be governed by licensed, state-authorized distributors rather than by criminal entrepreneurs and pushers of various other, hard drugs — even fewer marijuana users will progress to other illicit drugs.
In some ways it reminds one of former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the youngest son of longtime Sen. Ted Kennedy ( D-Mass.). Patrick Kennedy became addicted to pharmaceutical opioids, alcohol, and other illegal drugs before finally embarrassing himself and the Congress when he was arrested in 2006 after crashing his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill. At the time, he was high on OxyContin and drunk from alcohol. In Patrick Kennedy’s own words, “OxyContin was what I used for years, but I’m an addict, so it doesn’t matter what it is. I used benzodiazepines, alcohol, stimulants, Adderall, cocaine, you name it.”
In 2009 Kennedy again checked himself into a drug rehabilitation program.
Kennedy then co-founded Project SAM, the principal anti-marijuana organization working in the country to maintain marijuana prohibition. While that strategy may be therapeutically useful for the (hopefully) recovering addict, it places the burden for his problems unfairly on the rest of us.
In fact, recent studies have shown that in states in which medical marijuana have been legalized, the use of opioids has significantly declined.
It is a sad reflection on these two individuals that they use their wealth and fame to punish the rest of us, by working to slow the inevitable end of marijuana prohibition.
About 60 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, despite the efforts of Adelson and Patrick Kennedy to try to defend prohibition. Nonetheless, there is naturally some concern that this influx of big money might sway a sufficient number of voters to defeat some of the pending legalization initiatives. The defeat of the medical use initiative in Florida in 2014 (it had the support of 58 percent of those voting, but fell short of the 60 percent required for a constitutional amendment) is attributed by many observers to the out-of-state funding from Adelson.
In the end, our nation’s marijuana policy must be based on science and common sense, not on the tragic examples of those who were unable to control their addictions. I’m confident the pro-legalization forces, with our positive message of the benefits to society from legalization, will carry the day and that we will both out-raise funds and outspend our opponents in these upcoming voter initiative campaigns, not just this year, but for as long as it takes to finally end marijuana prohibition.
This column was originally published on ATTN.com.