Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jun 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


For almost a year, American visitors to Las Vegas have been able to 
go to a show, dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant, drink, gamble - 
and legally buy cannabis.

Nevada was the first state in the nation to offer "reciprocity" to 
medical marijuana users, meaning a physician's recommendation from, 
say, California - useless in trying to access medical cannabis in, 
say, Colorado - is enough to gain entry to the cannabis dispensary 
nearest your favorite casino.

The first dispensary in Las Vegas "proper" opened last summer, and 
the first dispensary on Las Vegas Boulevard opened in March. With an 
adult legalization measure on the fall ballot in Nevada, it looks as 
if cannabis could soon be added to the list of must-do activities for 
a weekend in America's Sin City. And with an estimated 27 percent of 
Las Vegas' 41 million annual visitors coming from cannabis-friendly 
Southern California, there are millions of potential customers to 
make cannabis a complement to Vegas's gaming and dining industries. 
(In fact, with less than 2.8 million people statewide, there really 
is no cannabis industry in Nevada without toking tourists.)

Or perhaps better said, a "competitor." That would explain the 
reaction Sheldon G. Adelson has had to pot's growing profile in Las 
Vegas. The 18th-richest person on earth, according to Forbes, Adelson 
is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns the Venetian 
Resort-Hotel Casino, a 7,117-room city-state that's the 
second-largest hotel complex in the world, as well as other titanic 
casinos in Macau and Singapore.

Bored with such toys, Adelson recently purchased Nevada's largest 
newspaper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. As's Tom 
Angell recently pointed out, within a few months of Adelson becoming 
the new owner, the Review-Journal - which had repeatedly endorsed 
cannabis legalization - suddenly flipped, publishing a June 7 
editorial blasting legalization as a threat to Nevada. A 
head-scratching, reactionary throwback, the editorial paraphrased 
Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No," claimed cannabis has been linked to 
cancer, and even repeated the well-exploded "gateway drug" theory.

Editors at The Review-Journal denied their new boss had anything to 
do with their paper's flip-flop. Sure. Regardless, this is troubling 
to legalizers in California. Adelson, one of the biggest donors to 
Republican causes in the country, has money to burn, and has proven 
willing to burn it on blocking changes in drug laws.

In 2014, Adelson doled out more than $5.5 million to Drug Free 
Florida, cash that paid for scare ads which helped keep support for a 
medical marijuana ballot proposition in that state below the 
necessary 60 percent threshold. This year, another Adelson acolyte is 
vowing to raise $10 million to do it again in Florida, and it's no 
secret who he'll ask for a check first.

Adelson could, if he chose, single-handedly change the game in 
California, where the money race is currently slanted heavily in 
favor of legalization. Backers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act 
(AUMA), which would see California join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, 
and Alaska in allowing adults 21 and older to possess and grow small 
amounts of cannabis, are out-raising opponents by $2.5 million to $60,000.

Currently, the state prison guard and police officers' lobbies and 
state Teamsters are only offering token resistance to the millions 
available from the likes of tech billionaire Sean Parker, the 
Pritzker family of Hyatt Hotels fame, and some cannabis industry players.

If Adelson were to jump in the pool, the scales would easily be 
tipped in favor of prohibition.

So far, Adelson has kept his checkbook in his pocket. According to 
campaign finance records, he has yet to donate anywhere in California 
politics this campaign election cycle, and he's given only $1,000 to 
campaign efforts in Nevada - none of it to the anti-cannabis effort.

That will certainly change in Adelson's home state. With his 
newspaper opposing legalization, it would be shocking for Adelson to 
not support the anti-legalization campaign financially. And according 
to legalization opponents, he could be considering disrupting 
legalization efforts here in California, too.

"There have been discussions," says Kevin Sabet, the former Obama 
Administration drug policy official who is now executive director of 
anti-legalization Project SAM, on whose board sit former Congressman 
Patrick Kennedy (yes, one of those Kennedys) and David Frum, the 
neoconservative senior editor of The Atlantic. "[But] no one really 
knows. And anyone who says they know is just posturing."

Project SAM has a political action committee, named SAM Action, 
that's opening up field offices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas with 
$300,000 in initial campaign cash. At least part of Project SAM's 
funding comes from the federal government, via grants distributed 
through a nonprofit called Californians For Drug-Free Youth, 
according to public records. Real political capital will have to come 
from somewhere else, and Adelson is the most likely source.

The last time Adelson jumped into California politics was in 2005 
when he donated $100,000 to back ballot props to change union's 
political influence, teacher tenure, and state education spending. 
All three lost.

Adelson has never publicly explained his problem with weed. This 
year, he is supposedly close to launching a super PAC in support of 
Donald Trump, as Politico first reported. That's where the stakes are 
highest, and where most of his attention and money will be spent. But 
for a man that rich, adding "weed-killer" to his resume would be as 
easy as buying a newspaper.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom