Who Is This Anti-Marijuana Zealot Sheldon Adelson?


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.



26 thoughts

  1. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I feel a deep personal responsibility to be open and honest with others regarding my own experience with addiction.

    What I wanted to comment on was the blog statement about Kennedy, and his own recovery from opiate addiction, after which…

    “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.”

    I want to say that I consider it axiomatic that an individual must VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE sobriety. There’s more to the story, but that first step is critical.

    Why? Because there is no force in Heaven or on Earth that can make a drunk quit drinking if he doesn’t want to.

    And that is a fucked up situation to be sure.

    But the nature of addiction is such that attempting to force the addict to “quit” will either harden their resolve to keep using, or, to enable the addict to justify their behavior because “it was somebody else’s job to stop me, and they didn’t.” (Sounds like Trump? Never mind that for now.)

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary organization. Nobody “gotta” do shit! If you’re there, you’re there by choice. (Except those poor bastards who are there by court order. They’re just doing time, if they didn’t choose it voluntarily.)

    And because the gateway theory is a load of crap, AND because marijuana is a healer not a killer, marijuana use is quite compatible with recovery from drug addiction, in fact.

    I’ve done a bunch of cartoons on the topic of sobriety and marijuana. Haven’t blogged for quite awhile but you can visit http://www.soberstoner.com, if you want to see some marijuana cartoons on the topic!

    Bottom line: Marijuana Prohibition is not therapeutically-helpful with respect to treating drug addiction.

    1. As a 13 yo lad (I could of been younger …who the hell remembers!)I was getting drunk,then began with codeine and barbiturates.Still in my teens began with heroin till the age of aprox 22 .Went back to heavy drinking which destroyed my marriage as well as other relationships. Found A.A. in 1990 and continue not using alcohol.Last year I made a conscious decision to utilize cannabis as a calmative. usually a wee bit in the evening. If on those occasions I “Smoke” in the day I’m moved to exercise doing yoga,tai chi,pushup etc.I personally consider cannabis a “Botanical Remedy” and since I don’t become impaired will continue to incorperate it into my life style along with ginseng,turmeric,milk thistle which helps an ex boozers liver. For certain folks addicted or not and who think that herbal remedy’s may be of benefit I do recommend cannabis.But if your prone to wanting to be out of it then be cautious. I’m 71 years old and at this point want to keep my wits about myself and…..life.

  2. And like archaic clockwork hours after you publish your blog, Keith, comes confirmation that Adleson is donating half a million dollars to the ARDP to stop legalization in Arizona as well;


    The true answer to “Who this anti-marijuana zealot, Sheldon Adleson is,” is not a quedtion of either or but both and more… meaning sure, some painful guilt in exposing his children to a world of addiction is a major cause for Adelson to scapegoat all drugs, including marijuana that has proven a gateway OUT of addiction were it not for the illegal dealers incentivized to sell you anything addictive including an unlocked stolen i phone…
    …But lets not kid ourselves; Adelson makes a fortune laundering money and as long as citizens united is in effect that will continue to include the washing machine campaign finance has become. Take away prohibition we take away Sheldon’s best customers from money laundering banks and drug dealers to the alcohol spin of Vegas itself. Anyone need to declare a tax loss? Now THATS addictive! As Mexweed once posted, marijuana can even ween gambling addicts. Gateway drug? Marijuana?! Sure if the gate is to RECOVERY.
    I agree there is some addiction guilt with Kennedy and Adelson, but there is also catch 22 from the DEA that turns even celebrities, wealthy and the powerful into informants (which explains Stephen Baldwin’s endorsement of Trump and prohibition; got busted didja Steve?)
    Misguided guilt could explain Bruce Halle’s million dollar donation to ARDP. But as someone who works in construction, I know how real estate, construction or even tire shops become a laundry business for illegal drug money. Why aren’t the banks donating to legalization? Think about it.

  3. But as the Times reported, California is looking inevitable to pass, tipping the balance in electoral votes. The NY Times that is… But it was the Phoenix New Times linked on my previous post that quotes this while situation best. I just want to copy one excerpt;

    “The ARDP can now boast that it’s fighting marijuana from gambling casinos, liquor stores and a shady drug maker [Insys Therapuetics] that views legal pot as competition. All this as its members claim to be concerned for its children.”

    MAJOR burn. That’s GOTTA sting Adelson and Kennedy… “The truth is an offense but not a sin.” There’s still chance for you to escape the Dark side of the Force old Anakin and Sith Lord Kennedy… “Want you will for your children this education! HMmm!” (Sorry, just nerded out there for a second…)

    Look at the momentum; Delaware may end up being the first legislatively enacted legalization next year, changing the game at the federal level permanently.

    And if either Florida or Arkansas pass a medical law we pierce the southern “conservative” stronghold for non-voter-initiative states, while Democrats run away with the traditionally conservative doners. Republican voters are tired of being misrepresented on marijuana policy and many are willing to go “conservative Democrat” to prove it, in a way America hasn’t seen since LBJ was followed by Nixon.

    And Sheldon’s puppet Vegas Tribune tying endorsements of prohibition and Trump is killing Republicans in this election, and freeing Democrats to finally help out marijuana-friendly Progressives on the lower ballot. FINALLY Hillary! Back up what Sanders has been doing all along!

    Game on Sheldon. Pot’s right… and almost legal!

  4. saw a report with him in it I THINK on Maddow. Very sorry to hear about his son’s struggles, death, for both of them…..wish him peace and them wellness, the one eternal rest….but truly, good studies from RAND, Netherlands. I can understand why he would be opposed, but marijuana and such harder and horrible drugs are simply not the same. And I certainly cannot stand with that other elderly gentleman in Florida, who is apparently, what, wants to raise 10 mil to fight medical marijuana? Sigh…and it might be true, could marijuana use provide relief from harder drugs and addiction to hard drugs, alcohol? Good article, I was just wondering about Mr. Adelson after watching a bit of a report, I think it was on MSNBC or somewhere just hours ago.

  5. an open letter to Sheldon Adelson,

    from GOD;

    I, took your son, as a lesson to you…

    BUT !!!!;

    you did not learn your lesson !!!!

    you made millions and millions of dollars,

    by FEEDING the addictions of gamblers !!

    so; I took your son,
    from you,
    with ADDICTION.



    and now,
    you are ‘doubling down’;

    you are waging a war,
    against a plant that IS NOT ADDICTIVE !!!

    A PLANT I MADE !!!

    this is your last chance;






    or rot in HELL,


    EXACTLY as you deserve…

    what you do,

    unto the least of my children;




    ME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I reject Kennedy’s “addictive personality” theory of addiction. I believe this is a view that holds addiction as a character weakness and a moral failing. But some careful thought will reveal that this belief flies in the face of the evidence.

    First, a little common sense: while it’s true that you might meet the occasional Hunter S. Thompson clone from time to time, still in general, that’s not how most drug addicts behave.

    Consider your own every-day observations. Let’s start with the most addictive (and most deadly) recreational drug of all: nicotine. I would venture to say that most nicotine addicts are not equally draw to other drugs like heroin, LSD, or even marijuana. Most tobacco addicts do not become alcohol addicts as a matter of course.

    Similarly, the bars of America are filled with alcoholics who would never dream of taking heroin or LSD… what they might consider “doing drugs.”

    But more scientifically, please recall a recent NORML blog in which Keith Stroup listed the ADDICTION RATES for various drugs; if you recall, they varied wildly. For example, the addiction rate for tobacco is very high, but the addiction rate for alcohol is much lower, and so on.

    This is all inconsistent with the “addictive personality” theory of addiction, which is really just a pseudo-scientific version of Religion: drug use as a “sin” and a moral failing.

    There is a moral component to recovery from addiction, to be sure. But the “addictive personality” model of addiction mischaracterizes the moral responsibilities involved.

    The strategy of Harm Reduction is a better choice for dealing with drug abuse in society.

    1. There is another point to consider: it has been well established that cannabis is medically beneficial, and in some cases, the only medicine that works. But if a patient needs cannabis, but isn’t aware of that fact, or just doesn’t have access to cannabis, then that patient is very likely to try a plethora of alternative medications in a desperate and futile attempt to balance and nourish their endo-cannabinoid systems.

      They may seek relief from alcohol, opiates, or other medications; and in turn, that behavior can easily be mistaken for drug addiction or drug dependency, or so-called addictive personality. But in such a case, the patient is additionally suffering from a denial of necessary medicine, which I consider a human-rights violation.

      But my point here is that marijuana prohibition injects bias and invalidates scientific research in this more subtle way, in addition to making cannabis inaccessible to scientists.

  7. Even though Sheldon Adelson has more than a thousand times more money than most people I feel pity for him. I have plenty of reasons for that:

    He will be dead soon and will never have known the pleasure and healing properties that cannabis could have given him.

    He will not be remembered fondly once he dies. Most will probably remember him as a mean old man and be glad he is dead.

    His efforts to stop cannabis legalization will fail since most people, particularly the most highly educated, understand that prohibition is harmful and must end.

    I doubt that he has ever felt love.

    1. Do not kid yourself. Sheldon is not against medical weed. He is against Americans making any money from it. He heavily invests in research and production of medical weed in ISRAEL !

  8. I can confirm myself with my personal experience that, if anything; marijuana is NOT a way IN, but OUT of other harmful drugs.

    I enjoy recreational use of drugs and before trying marijuana I would do alcohol or benzos (benzos because I could easily access them from the hospital I worked at). Sometimes both of them (with the potential risk involved, as they synergize).

    I was taking two drugs which can POTENTIALLY KILL me. And both are readily available to purchase (or get by other means). And they are not even ranked as the most harmful.

  9. I can confirm myself with my personal experience that, if anything; marijuana is NOT a way IN, but OUT of other harmful drugs.

    I enjoy recreational use of drugs and before trying marijuana I would do alcohol or benzos (benzos because I could easily access them from the hospital I worked at). Sometimes both of them (with the potential risk involved, as they synergize).

    I was taking two drugs which can POTENTIALLY KILL me. And both are readily available to purchase (or get by other means). And they are not even ranked as the most harmful.

  10. Now, why on earth are these two LEGAL when I could be taking one on which you CANT, no matter how hard you try, OVERDOSE? Now, why do I need to HIDE in order to take care of my PERSONAL HEALTH, by choosing the healthiest PATH to recreational drug use? Now, who do our leaders think they are to take my FREEDOM to enjoy MY LIFE in a way that is NOT HARMFUL to others(and hardly to myself, if at all), just for MONEY reasons? Now, do WE want to make our WORLD better and SAFER by eliminating illegal UNSAFE markets, through LEGAL and REGULATED cannabis consumption? Why cant WE stop paying STUPID HIGH prices for a potentially UNSAFE and BADLY processed (or a SCAM even) product? Why cant we make it so that EVERYONE can enjoy a QUALITY product? So that other people can easily ACCESS this substance; without being SCARED of underground MARKETS, being FIRED from work or IMPRISONED? Hell, some people`s QUALITY OF LIFE could improve in some cases. Anyways, my life did improve. I stopped doing that unsafe and toxic substances and won`t ever come back. Why would I? It`s not like I am going to stop doing something I know is good for me (while not harmful for others) only because somebody told me. Oh well, that`s PROHIBITION. Its just a shame prohibitionism DOESN`T WORK and will eventually BE DEFEATED. Mostly because people WANT to BE FREE. But oh well, we will remember this ANTI FREEDOM heroes; doing such hard work to PREVENT the world from making any IMPROVEMENT. Keep at it, one day someone will laugh at your HORRIBLE contribution to OUR WORLD and be HAPPY your ideals are BURIED DEEP. Time is TICKING.

  11. It is a very sad, but common theme. A parent for whatever reason, must point the finger of blame. Sometimes it comes from guilt born over the, “should I have, could I have” feelings at the loss of an addict. Sometimes it is just the need to try to make sense of the senseless loss. Denying sick people a potential medicine doesn’t fix personal those issues.

  12. Adelson is complicit in one of the most addictive activities there is. So many lives have been ruined or lost through suicide and murder because of gambling. It seem very hypocritical to me that he can make his fortune in that business without compunction, but can justify his activities against cannabis!

  13. We have the right to bare arms!!! Guns are for killing people and sometimes deadly animals like deer and quail! People with guns kill people. Its alright to have guns?? Freedom of religion… Although it is a good law, people are now allowed to be evil which can lead to a black pit of doom and unholy terror after death? Prove me wrong. How would anyone make being evil illegal? Obviously both laws can harm big time. But we want to go after a safe plant which makes us feel good by arresting and ruining the lives of those caught? Lol. Guns, evil? Ok! Safe plant with good effects? NOT! ?? Don’t worry, God loves even the evil, gun-toting psychopaths among us who want to ruin the lives of good poor pleasure-seeking smokers for nothing! Its being used one way or the other. Legal weed is safer than drug cartel weed. Love both Gods for more pleasure. Fuck can’t wait till I have more weed to smoke. Once I get 4-5 hits of nugs in my lungs, it’ll be no problems for now. I’ll take 36 THC-laced gummies, hold the problems!… Lol. Peace

    1. Have you ever stopped a rape with a joint? Have you ever fought to the death with a joint and won? Legal is safer than cartel 23rd? That’s so stupid and shows how dumb stoners are. Its the same thing!!! There is literally no difference. Lmao

  14. Sheldon Adelson is a saint trying to save all you stupid stoners from yourselves. Potheads are so incredibly stupid. I’ve never met one with their shit together. Norml to me is a scam. Been around for decades and hasn’t done shit for reform or legalization. They take credit from mpp and other groups like they actually did something other than smoke your membership money. Sheldon is a man who gets things done. Norml are just a bunch of idiot stoners thats why he’s rich and you have to beg stoners for money. The guy that runs normal in southeast Texas and his wife are such idiots, they get nothing done
    They think education about marijuana is their job. No one here doesn’t know what marijuana is. He waste member fees on his stupid friends bands and has set up his wife as some kind of women’s pothead director. Apparently,he’s sexist and doesn’t know all potheads are one..he praised the sheriff and invited her to a meeting like anything will stop her duty to enforce the law. He claimed he rallied against Texas’s cbd legalization but couldn’t tell me why it was bad and then held a class on how to screw yourself over under the New law by paying 6000 for a lisence to sell it. He just really sells his friends junk at every meeting. No one fears normal because you’re too entranced by a simple plant to actually get off the couch and do anything and your leaders are just stoners and drug dealers. Want to expand clientele? Start a norml chapter.

  15. I’m all for the legalization of marijuana for a number of reasons. It definitely has the potential to address a wide range of conditions that are now being handled with dangerous and money driven prescription medications. I think it can be a double edged sword though and contrary to a lot of popular opinion it can be addictive and can serious health issues if abused. I speak from experience. I was a daily smoker for over 10 years and had severe post acute withdrawal symptoms when I quit including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, muscle aches, and central nervous system issues. It rewires your brain chemistry dramatically over time like any other substance. So yes to the amazing healing, consciousness expanding properties and removing the legal consequences, but a word of caution to anyone thinking it is completely harmless. Like any other tools, it can be used for creation or destruction. Conscientiousness and intention are key.

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