Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jun 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Rob Hotakainen


They Fear Trump Will Be Influenced by Ties to Chris Christie, Sheldon Adelson

Pro-Pot Nevada Newspaper Reversed Its Stand After Pot Critic Adelson Bought It

Industry Isn't Certain It Would Fare Any Better Under Democrat Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON - Mark Kleiman, who served as Washington state's top pot 
consultant after voters legalized the drug in 2012, says it would be 
easy for the next president to get rid of the nation's marijuana shops.

"Look, a President Trump could shut down the legal cannabis industry 
everywhere in the country with the stroke of a pen," said Kleiman, 
who's now a professor of public policy at New York University's 
Marron Institute of Urban Management. "All you have to do is take a 
list of the state-licensed cannabis growers and sellers into federal 
district court and say, 'Your Honor, here are the people who have 
applied for and been given licenses to commit federal felonies.' "

Across the country, pot legalization advocates worry that a Trump 
victory on Nov. 8 could mean trouble for legalized recreational pot 
in Washington state and Colorado, as well as other states such as 
California and Nevada that want to follow their lead.

If a new administration decides to enforce federal laws that ban the 
possession and sale of marijuana, pot backers say it could stall the 
national momentum for legalization and chase investors away from the 
nascent industry.

While Trump and his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State 
Hillary Clinton, both say they'd follow the lead of President Barack 
Obama in leaving legalization to states, many fear that the GOP 
presidential nominee could easily reverse course. They note Trump's 
ties to two of the country's most ardent opponents to legalization: 
New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Sheldon Adelson, a 
multibillionaire casino magnate from Las Vegas.

"He could change his mind in five minutes," said Allen St. Pierre, 
executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws, a pro-legalization group. "It's almost impossible to 
know exactly what he actually believes because he has said so many 
different things and contradicted himself."

Of the two, St. Pierre said that Christie, a former federal 
prosecutor, poses the biggest threat.

Christie, regarded as one of Trump's top candidates for attorney 
general, is already making plans for the New York billionaire to take 
over as president, serving as the chairman of his transition team. He 
endorsed Trump after ending his own presidential bid, but not before 
riling pot backers by pledging to enforce all federal marijuana laws.

"He was the most virulently anti-marijuana candidate," St. Pierre 
said. "If you're in the marijuana business, you've got to be way, 
way, way more concerned about Chris Christie being attorney general."

Other legalization advocates are fretting over Adelson, who ranks as 
one of the nation's top Republican donors.

Adelson caused a stir in December when he bought the Las Vegas 
Review-Journal, Nevada's largest newspaper. Two weeks ago, the paper 
shocked marijuana backers by reversing its long history of support 
for legalization.

In an editorial, the newspaper urged voters to reject a measure to 
legalize marijuana in November, calling it "a bad bet for Nevada" 
that would jeopardize public health and lead to more drug abuse and addiction.

Legalization backers say it shows the influence of Adelson, who also 
used his money to help defeat Florida's medical marijuana ballot 
initiative in 2014.

"I can't help but see this as yet another attempt by a wealthy, 
sycophantic conservative to subvert the will of American voters," 
said Derek Peterson, chief executive officer of Terra Tech Corp., a 
publicly traded marijuana company. "It's a disgrace that Mr. Adelson 
would pressure the newsroom at the Las Vegas Review-Journal to do his bidding."

Craig Moon, the newspaper's publisher, took credit for assigning the editorial.

"I am aware of the (Adelson) family views of which I personally 
agree. The editorial page reports to me," Moon said in an email.

And J. Keith Moyer, former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune 
and now the editor of the Las Vegas newspaper, said the newsroom has 
not cut back on its marijuana coverage, offering readers two stories 
on the issue in the last week alone.

"Trust me, we are all over the topic," Moyer said in an email.

The New York Times reported that Adelson met privately with Trump 
last month, promising to contribute more than $100 million to help 
elect Trump. The newspaper cited two anonymous Republicans with 
direct knowledge of Adelson's commitment.

Kleiman said legalization backers in Washington state and elsewhere 
will have plenty of reason to worry if Trump wins and starts taking 
advice from Adelson on marijuana issues.

"I'm so old I can remember when billionaires were not a branch of 
government," Kleiman said. "I mean, it is shocking that somebody can 
intervene in politics that way, but it's true."

Peterson, who lives in Newport Beach, California, with his company 
doing business in both Nevada and the Golden State, promised to get 
more involved in Nevada's legalization fight after reading the 
Review-Journal's editorial. But he said that Adelman's wealth  Forbes 
estimates his net worth at more than $26 billion  will make it difficult.

"For him to pony up 5 or 10 million dollars is a relative rounding 
error," Peterson said. "It's a little bit of a David and Goliath type 
of a showdown here coming into this election cycle."

Nevada is one of four states that will vote on the legalization of 
recreational marijuana this year, along with California, Arizona and 
Maine. It could be the biggest year yet on the marijuana front, with 
the number of states that allow fully legal pot possibly doubling.

Currently, Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and the 
District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. A 
majority of states now allow medical marijuana: Ohio became the 26th 
this month.

"Nevada's a big tipping point," Peterson said. "It's a big, big 
tourist state. The industry will certainly prosper if legalization passes."

If the Nevada vote fails, Peterson said, it will shake investor 
confidence and signal that "additional headwinds" lie ahead: "When we 
have a setback like we did in Florida when Sheldon got involved it 
was disruptive. It causes a snowball effect that people don't see 
behind the scenes."

With polls showing a majority of Americans now back legalization, Tom 
Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, 
said Adelson will have a hard time slowing the momentum.

"The fact is the country is rapidly moving toward legalization and it 
will be very difficult, even for a billionaire, to interrupt our 
momentum at this point," Angell said.

Legalization backers have had little to worry about under Obama, who 
smoked marijuana in his younger days in Hawaii and who largely left 
states to wrestle with legalization and enforcement issues, famously 
telling ABC-TV's Barbara Walters in 2012 that he had "bigger fish to fry."

With Obama preparing to leave office in January, opponents and 
proponents of legalization are trying to figure out what Trump or 
Clinton would do. And they're having difficulty reading the signals, 
with the candidates giving hope to people on both sides of the debate.

On paper, at least, there's little difference between the two 
candidates. Clinton has called states "laboratories of democracy" 
that should be allowed to legalize recreational marijuana but says 
that medical marijuana needs more study, while Trump has expressed 
concerns about negative effects caused by legalization.

"I think Donald Trump has been pretty skeptical of what's going on in 
Colorado and Washington, so I'm not sure there's some major 
difference with Adelson," said Kevin Sabet, president of the 
anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

And while Trump "has waffled," Sabet added: "Everyone knows Hillary 
is no fan of marijuana legalization in really any form."

Peterson said those who work in the marijuana industry have been left 
confused by statements from both Trump and Clinton, adding that Sen. 
Bernie Sanders, an independent Senator who sought the Democratic 
presidential nomination, has made it clear that he's on their side.

"Neither one of them have been completely overt," Peterson said. 
"With the exception of Bernie, who would love to hand out free 
samples to everybody in the world, we just don't know where we sit."

Kleiman said that while Clinton's been cautious on marijuana issues, 
she's given no indication that she would move to crack down on states 
that have legalized marijuana. And if the uncertainty surrounding 
Trump causes legalization backers to vote against him, Kleiman said: 
"I'm all for it."

"If Trump's elected president, pot's the least of our worries," 
Kleiman said. "Would he shut down the Washington state cannabis 
system before or after he started a nuclear war?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom