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.
With Election Day less than three weeks away we’re excited to share with you the latest polling information from states with pending marijuana related ballot initiatives, as well as breaking news from another state that may be setting the stage for full legalization next year. A summary of this year’s crop of marijuana-centric ballot initiatives is available online here.
NORML is also pleased to announce that next week we will be releasing our first ever, Governors Report Card. Inspired by our Congressional Scorecard, this report will provide a letter grade for the Governors of all 50 states. Which Governors have been supportive of reforms and which ones have stood in the way of progress? We’ll give your Governor a grade so you know exactly where your Governor stands. If you aren’t yet subscribed to our Newsletter, sign up today so you can be the first to receive the Governors Scorecard in your inbox!
Now, keep reading below to get the latest in marijuana law reform!
Arizona: Half of Arizona voters intend to vote ‘yes’ in favor of Proposition 205: The Arizona Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana Act, according to an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll. Forty percent of voters oppose the initiative. The Act allows adults age 21 and older to possess and to privately consume and grow limited amounts of marijuana (up to one ounce of marijuana flower, up to five grams of marijuana concentrate, and/or the harvest from up to six plants) and provides regulations for a retail cannabis marketplace.
Delaware: A September poll by the University of Delaware shows that 61 percent of residents surveyed support marijuana legalization. The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on Sept. 16-28, consisted of 900 phone interviews. Last year Delaware decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, reclassifying the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those age 21 and over from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a criminal record, to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record.
Last week, the state’s Senate majority whip said that she would propose a bill in January to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state. We’ll have an #ActionAlert out soon so you can #TakeAction in support of this legislation.
Florida: According to an October poll by the University of North Florida, 77 percent of respondents said they’ll vote for Amendment 2, which would expand medical marijuana access in the state. Passage of the amendment would permit qualified patients to possess and obtain cannabis from state-licensed facilities. Under Florida law, 60 percent of voters must approve a constitutional amendment in order for it to become law. In November 2014, Floridians narrowly rejected a similar amendment, which received 58 percent of the vote.
Massachusetts: According to a WBUR poll released this week, support for marijuana legalization is rising. Fifty-five percent of likely voters now say they favor allowing adults to use recreational marijuana, an increase of five percentage points from a similar poll performed last month. Question 4 permits adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis and to grow up to six plants for non-commercial purposes. The measure also establishes regulations overseeing the commercial production and sale of the plant.
The Florida’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has filed a civil lawsuit against the Broward County Commissioner of Elections, after media and news reports revealed that mail in ballots have been sent to voters omitting the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.
The claim was just filed by NORML’s national vice chairman, Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent, and his law partner, Russell Cormican, on behalf of Florida NORML and Karen Goldstein, NORML Florida’s chair, a West Park, Broward County voter.
The plaintiff’s are seeking a judicial declaration enjoining the Defendant’s from distributing any further ballots, and implementing an emergency plan to issue new ones which insure the inclusion of the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
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It’s a great time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker. We are finally working our way out of the shadows of prohibition and into the mainstream. Following the reign of terror that resulted in more than 25 million Americans being arrested on marijuana charges since 1937, the country is at last looking for a better alternative.
Fewer marijuana smokers are being arrested.
Flickr/Oregon Dept. of Transportation – flic.kr
First, and most important, fewer and fewer states continue to treat responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. Seventeen states have decriminalized the personal use of marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. With each new state that moves in our direction, the number of marijuana arrests continues to decline.
The latest marijuana arrest data released this week by the FBI show that 643,122 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 2015, with 89 percent of those arrests for marijuana possession only, not for cultivation or trafficking. While that number remains far too high — that’s a lot of individuals having their lives and careers disrupted unfairly over their use of marijuana — it is the lowest number of marijuana arrests reported since 1996. And it represents nearly a 25 percent reduction in arrests since the peak (almost 800,000 arrests) was reached in 2007.
“Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana,” according to the ACLU’s 2013 report on marijuana arrests.
With five states scheduled to vote on full legalization this November, marijuana arrest rates are expected to continue to decline further in the coming years. We clearly still have lots of work to do, but the trend is all in our direction, and the pace appears to be accelerating.
More Americans are smoking marijuana.
Second, marijuana smoking continues to become more mainstream culturally, with more and more adult Americans smoking each year. Instead of being ostracized and marginalized, marijuana smokers today are being embraced by the larger culture. For most Americans today, smoking marijuana is simply no big deal.
About 30 million Americans smoked marijuana over the past year, more than double the number of smokers in 2002, and 69 percent of the country now are aware that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
One in eight Americans (13 percent) now reports that they currently smoke marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s nearly double the number of current users (7 percent) found by Gallup just three years earlier, with 43 percent of Americans acknowledging they have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. One in five adults under 30 years of age is now a pot smoker.
Flickr/Dank Depot – flickr.com
And yet the number of adolescent marijuana smokers has not increased over the last decade, and adolescents tell us that marijuana is becoming less available to them than in prior years. The percentage of respondents aged 12-17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between 2002 and 2014, researchers at the CDC reported. Regulation with age controls is clearly more effective than prohibition.
As marijuana smoking continues to gain popularity, it also gains respectability, with fewer and fewer Americans supporting marijuana prohibition. They are not necessarily pro-pot, but — just as the country learned with the failed attempt at alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early ’30s — a majority of the public has concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself. Roughly 60 percent of the public now supports ending prohibition and legalizing marijuana.
Among generations, the demographics are strongly pointing toward ending prohibition altogether. About 68 percent of Millennials say marijuana should be legal, and 50 percent of baby boomers favor legalization. Young Americans simply have no problem with marijuana and can’t understand why it was ever made illegal.
High quality marijuana is available today.
Flickr/fredodf, Bigstock/greg banks – flic.kr
Finally, high quality marijuana is available to most consumers today, regardless of where you live. The marijuana legalization movement is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom. The government has no business coming into our homes to know what books we read, what music we listen to, how we conduct ourselves in the bedroom, and whether we drink alcohol or smoke marijuana when we relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.
If there were no marijuana to smoke, this movement would still be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it would not be a political movement that is changing fundamental values in our country. We have political power as a movement because we are part of a community, and our marijuana smoking helps define that community.
There was a time when marijuana smokers had to make a serious effort to find a source to obtain decent marijuana, and in many parts of the country, there was frequently a “marijuana drought” for a couple of months each fall, before the new crop was harvested, when there was simply no marijuana available for consumers to buy on the black market. During those years, most high quality marijuana was imported. Some came from Canada, some from Mexico (“Acapulco Gold”). There was ganja from Jamaica, “Thai stick” from Thailand, etc. Domestic marijuana during those years was considered “ditch weed” and only smoked as a last resort.
And because of the legal risks involved importing marijuana, the price sometimes put high quality marijuana out of reach for many consumers, even if available. It was largely a connoisseur’s market.
Then the “grow America” movement took off. With seeds imported primarily from Holland and Canada, domestic marijuana growers began to produce the finest marijuana in the world. That remains the case today. Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam, for example, will find that most of the marijuana available in the famous coffee shops, while good, is simply not as strong as the marijuana available in most states today, either via the legally regulated market or on the black market.
We’re looking for basic fairness.
Flickr/Heath Alseike, Flickr/Unai Mateo – flickr.com
We still have a great deal of work to do before responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly: Job discrimination, child custody issues, and DUID are just three of the more important areas where smokers are still treated like second class citizens. And we need social clubs where we can legally socialize with our friends and others who also smoke marijuana, outside a private home.
But these reforms will come as we continue to come out of the closet and gain political strength and as more and more Americans accept the fact that we are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities in a positive manner. When we relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, tens of millions of us enjoy a joint.
Is this a great country or what?
This column first ran on ATTN.com.
NORML released our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard this week in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
With the 2016 presidential election drawing closer and statewide marijuana initiatives qualified for the ballot in nine states, we need YOU to make it out to the polls to support ending cannabis prohibition. Double-check your status as a voter and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Take a look at how we graded your members of Congress and bring that information with you to the polls on Election Day!
Federal: Members of Congress have approved a short-term spending bill that keeps in place existing provisions protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Federal lawmakers will revisit the FY 2017 spending appropriation after the Election.
California: On Tuesday, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the nation’s largest state organization of nurses, announced that it has endorsed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Deborah Burger, President of the California Nurses Association/NNU said, “California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety. California needs a new approach and Proposition 64 is carefully crafted to strictly regulate adult-use marijuana while funding critical youth programs and safeguarding children, workers and local communities.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
The California Nurses Association joins the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the California League of Conservative Voters, Equality California, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML in its support for Proposition 64.
If enacted by voters in November, Question 1 would allow adults to legally possess up to two and one-half ounces of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana (up to six mature plants and the entire yields of said plants) for their own personal use. The measure would also establish licensing for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis. Retail sales of cannabis would be subject to a ten percent sales tax. Non-commercial transactions and/or retail sales involving medical cannabis would not be subject to taxation.
Massachusetts: A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll finds that a majority of voters back Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The measure leads in the poll by a 53 percent to 40 percent margin.
If enacted, Question 4 allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and up to 10 ounces of marijuana in an enclosed, locked space within their residences, which mimics the current in-residence allowance established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for medical marijuana patients. It allows adults 21 years of age and older to grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their residences and possess the marijuana produced by those plants in the location where it was grown.
Tennessee: Members of the Memphis City Council are following in the footsteps of the Nashville Metro Council by approving a local ordinance to provide local police the discretion to issue $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record. Council members approved the ordinance last week in it’s second reading, with the third and final reading taking place October 4th. If you live in Memphis, consider contacting your member of City Council to urge their support for this common sense measure.