Sheldon Adelson – Billionaire Buzzkiller
In 2014, Floridians were fixing to become the first Southern state with medical marijuana. Activists put together a professional campaign funded mostly by millionaire attorney John Morgan. Florida resident Cathy Jordan, one of the world’s longest-surviving patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), emerged as the public example of who would be helped by passing the Question 2 medical marijuana amendment. Polls showed landslide support ranging in the 70-to-80 percent range, which was good, since constitutional amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass in Florida.
Enter Sheldon Adelson, who poured $4 million into a sleazy anti-medical marijuana TV ad campaign. Adelson was solicited by his longtime friend, Mel Sembler, a veteran anti-drug crusader who once ran the STRAIGHT Inc. teen tough-love rehab camps that paid almost $1 million in damages over false imprisonment and abuse lawsuits.
The TV ads told Floridians that the amendment was so full of loopholes it would empower drug dealers and turn children into drug addicts. The ads were successful enough to drop the final electoral count for Question 2 down to 58 percent – a landslide victory anywhere else, but a two-point defeat in Florida.
For years, the movement to reform marijuana laws was primarily funded by three billionaires – financier George Soros, Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance, and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling. Today, California’s legalization campaign is primarily funded by Lewis’ estate and Facebook billionaire Sean Parker. Now our opposition has its first billionaire backer, Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is an 82-year-old man who is currently Forbes’ 22nd-richest person in the world, estimated to be worth $27 billion. His fortune was amassed through various business ventures, but today derives from his Las Vegas Sands casino empire, which owns and operates The Venetian, The Palazzo, and Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas; The Sands in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and five more casinos in China and Singapore.
Adelson is active in Republican politics. His influence is so great GOP candidates flew to Vegas this year to personally lobby for his support in what pundits called “the Adelson primary”. He has endorsed Donald Trump for president and has pledged to donate $100 million to Trump’s campaign. (Perhaps he could also educate Trump on how not to bankrupt a casino.) And while Adelson has strong political views on taxation and foreign policy, in particular, Adelson really hates marijuana.
Sheldon and his second wife, Israeli-born Dr. Miriam Adelson, have been married for 25 years and have had four children together. She holds numerous medical degrees and specializes in drug addiction treatment. She and Sheldon founded The Adelson Clinic, which treats people for addiction at centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.
Those clinics arose out of a shared interest in combatting drug addiction. Sheldon and his first wife had three adopted children together. One of those children, Mitchell, “used heroin and cocaine from an early age,” according to Miriam, and died of an overdose in 2005. Another of those children, Gary, was estranged from the Adelsons for years due to his drug addiction.
The Adelsons also formed the Adelson Medical Research Foundation. During the 2014 battle for medical marijuana in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported that researchers from the Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at Tel Aviv University found “some of the chemical compounds found in marijuana can help treat MS-like diseases in mice.” (Today, all the links to that study return a “page not found” error.)
Despite Adelson’s own medical research foundation finding that medical marijuana is beneficial in treating multiple sclerosis and despite his wife’s medical education in the nation that discovered THC and leads in medical marijuana research, as far as Sheldon Adelson is concerned, marijuana is the gateway drug that led his adopted son to his death from hard drugs.
Now Florida has medical marijuana on the ballot again as Question 2 and legalization is on the ballot in Adelson’s home state of Nevada, also as Question 2. But the billionaire buzzkiller isn’t just dropping seven-figure donations on media ads to defeat marijuana reform, he’s buying the media itself.
The largest newspaper in Nevada is the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Back in 2014 when the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada was beginning its signature drive, the editorial board endorsed the measure, writing that “taxpayers finally seem to understand that spending vast sums of money at the local, state and federal levels on police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and jails to lock up nonviolent offenders and enable the enrichment of gangs and thugs has done nothing to diminish demand for marijuana.”
So Sheldon Adelson in December 2015 shelled out $140 million to buy the newspaper. In June, the Review-Journal’s editorial board reversed itself on support for Nevada legalization, writing, “legalizing weed would jeopardize the health of countless Nevadans, expose more people to drug abuse and addiction, put excessive stress on the state’s health-care facilities and do little to relieve the state’s bloated prison population.”
Whether Adelson’s opposition funding remains confined to Nevada and Florida is anybody’s guess. With potentially ten states voting on reform this fall, Adelson could drop $4 million in each state and give Donald Trump $100 million for the price he paid for the Review-Journal.