On Nov. 8, the Nevada Question 2 poll will decide whether or not the state approves of legal recreational weed; but Sheldon Adelson is funneling millions of dollars into campaigning and buying press influence to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Sheldon had donated $2 million to Protecting Nevada’s Children, the primary opposition group to Question 2. Adelson’s bet on the Nevada measure came to light through campaign finance records.
It’s an action not just limited to Nevada’s Question 2, but actually several states around the nation where Sheldon’s impressive net worth is being used to influence public policy. In Massachusetts, where Adelson was born, he pledged $1 million to anti-marijuana group Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts.
Of course, Sheldon’s link with Nevada goes beyond birthplace or even residency. Adelson is perhaps the leading casino mogul of the Las Vegas strip, but it’s his name on the national political stage that he may be most known for, and Question 2 is definitely not his first time at the craps table.
In fact, Sheldon is actually the biggest GOP donor of the 2016 election according to Open Secrets. Adelson and his wife Miriam have donated more than $260 million to political campaigning this year.
— Las Vegas Sun (@LasVegasSun) October 7, 2016
Sheldon has done more to influence marijuana legalization in Nevada than just throw down money on counter-campaigns. Adelson has also dipped his fingers into local press, controversially purchasing the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year. The billionaire attempted to keep his name hidden from the purchase despite heavy protests from the paper’s journalists — though they were eventually able to find out who was behind the transaction.
In the time since Sheldon made his new acquisition, the Review-Journal has done a complete 180 on their stance for Nevada’s Question 2. After years of support for making weed legal both medicinally and recreationally, the editorial board rescinded their support after Adelson and his wife pushed for the editorial board to visit drug treatment centers in order to influence their opinion.
In June, the paper released their new Sheldon Adelson-approved opinion on the topic: One that lambasted Question 2 as a decision that would lead to out-of-control emergency room visits and widespread addiction.
“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… Expanding legal access to pot, however, would be a bad move for the Silver State. Voters should “just say no” to [Question 2] legalizing recreational marijuana on Election Day.”
This new editorial line stands in stark contrast to what the paper had released just a month before Sheldon took over the reins. Without Adelson, the Review-Journal was actually one of the most committed voices in the state to both medicinal and recreational weed legalization — fully supporting a measure like Question 2 before it even showed up on the ballot. Last November, they encouraged presidential candidates to reschedule marijuana, referring to current weed laws as “perplexing.” In another piece from July, 2015, the board actually wondered aloud what Gov. Chris Christie “was smoking” when he admitted the War on Drugs had failed but did not support decriminalization.
“This position [supporting legalization] is taken not only because of the supreme costs related to policing, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders — not to mention the tragic (and preventable) cost in human lives — but also due to inescapable fact that no amount of government pressure has ever reduced demand for illegal drugs in the United States. In fact, it has done the exact opposite… We must end the war on drugs.”
Comparing those two opinions adds substance to the argument that Sheldon’s views on weed legalization have had a clear impact on that of the paper he now owns, although publisher Craig Moon insists that they have not. Additionally, Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project suggested to Marijuana.com that Adelson’s stance is actually quite hypocritical.
“Most Nevadans are already wary of [Sheldon], and now they are probably even more so given how glaring the hypocrisy is in this case. This is a guy who has made a fortune pushing booze on casino-goers, but wants to keep a much less harmful product illegal. Hopefully the Review-Journal will keep Adelson’s opinion confined to the opinion section and not let it leak into its news coverage.”
It’s hard to say where Nevada Question 2 polls will land come election day. While one poll from Suffolk University released at the end of September showed a huge shift toward a win for the measure, the paper Sheldon Adelson owns released a new one just a few days ago that also shows a victory, but by just one percent.
[Featured Image by Win McNamee and Ron Wurzer/Getty Images]