Who Is This Anti-Marijuana Zealot Sheldon Adelson?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel October 24, 2016


    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.



    26 responses to “Who Is This Anti-Marijuana Zealot Sheldon Adelson?”

    1. Mark Mitcham says:

      As a recovering alcoholic myself, I feel a deep personal responsibility to be open and honest with others regarding my own experience with addiction.

      What I wanted to comment on was the blog statement about Kennedy, and his own recovery from opiate addiction, after which…

      “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.”

      I want to say that I consider it axiomatic that an individual must VOLUNTARILY CHOOSE sobriety. There’s more to the story, but that first step is critical.

      Why? Because there is no force in Heaven or on Earth that can make a drunk quit drinking if he doesn’t want to.

      And that is a fucked up situation to be sure.

      But the nature of addiction is such that attempting to force the addict to “quit” will either harden their resolve to keep using, or, to enable the addict to justify their behavior because “it was somebody else’s job to stop me, and they didn’t.” (Sounds like Trump? Never mind that for now.)

      Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary organization. Nobody “gotta” do shit! If you’re there, you’re there by choice. (Except those poor bastards who are there by court order. They’re just doing time, if they didn’t choose it voluntarily.)

      And because the gateway theory is a load of crap, AND because marijuana is a healer not a killer, marijuana use is quite compatible with recovery from drug addiction, in fact.

      I’ve done a bunch of cartoons on the topic of sobriety and marijuana. Haven’t blogged for quite awhile but you can visit http://www.soberstoner.com, if you want to see some marijuana cartoons on the topic!

      Bottom line: Marijuana Prohibition is not therapeutically-helpful with respect to treating drug addiction.

      • Tony says:

        As a 13 yo lad (I could of been younger …who the hell remembers!)I was getting drunk,then began with codeine and barbiturates.Still in my teens began with heroin till the age of aprox 22 .Went back to heavy drinking which destroyed my marriage as well as other relationships. Found A.A. in 1990 and continue not using alcohol.Last year I made a conscious decision to utilize cannabis as a calmative. usually a wee bit in the evening. If on those occasions I “Smoke” in the day I’m moved to exercise doing yoga,tai chi,pushup etc.I personally consider cannabis a “Botanical Remedy” and since I don’t become impaired will continue to incorperate it into my life style along with ginseng,turmeric,milk thistle which helps an ex boozers liver. For certain folks addicted or not and who think that herbal remedy’s may be of benefit I do recommend cannabis.But if your prone to wanting to be out of it then be cautious. I’m 71 years old and at this point want to keep my wits about myself and…..life.

      • saferinneworleans says:

        Good points, Mark, and I enjoyed reading your cartoons.

    2. Julian says:

      And like archaic clockwork hours after you publish your blog, Keith, comes confirmation that Adleson is donating half a million dollars to the ARDP to stop legalization in Arizona as well;


      The true answer to “Who this anti-marijuana zealot, Sheldon Adleson is,” is not a quedtion of either or but both and more… meaning sure, some painful guilt in exposing his children to a world of addiction is a major cause for Adelson to scapegoat all drugs, including marijuana that has proven a gateway OUT of addiction were it not for the illegal dealers incentivized to sell you anything addictive including an unlocked stolen i phone…
      …But lets not kid ourselves; Adelson makes a fortune laundering money and as long as citizens united is in effect that will continue to include the washing machine campaign finance has become. Take away prohibition we take away Sheldon’s best customers from money laundering banks and drug dealers to the alcohol spin of Vegas itself. Anyone need to declare a tax loss? Now THATS addictive! As Mexweed once posted, marijuana can even ween gambling addicts. Gateway drug? Marijuana?! Sure if the gate is to RECOVERY.
      I agree there is some addiction guilt with Kennedy and Adelson, but there is also catch 22 from the DEA that turns even celebrities, wealthy and the powerful into informants (which explains Stephen Baldwin’s endorsement of Trump and prohibition; got busted didja Steve?)
      Misguided guilt could explain Bruce Halle’s million dollar donation to ARDP. But as someone who works in construction, I know how real estate, construction or even tire shops become a laundry business for illegal drug money. Why aren’t the banks donating to legalization? Think about it.

    3. Anonymous says:

      But as the Times reported, California is looking inevitable to pass, tipping the balance in electoral votes. The NY Times that is… But it was the Phoenix New Times linked on my previous post that quotes this while situation best. I just want to copy one excerpt;

      “The ARDP can now boast that it’s fighting marijuana from gambling casinos, liquor stores and a shady drug maker [Insys Therapuetics] that views legal pot as competition. All this as its members claim to be concerned for its children.”

      MAJOR burn. That’s GOTTA sting Adelson and Kennedy… “The truth is an offense but not a sin.” There’s still chance for you to escape the Dark side of the Force old Anakin and Sith Lord Kennedy… “Want you will for your children this education! HMmm!” (Sorry, just nerded out there for a second…)

      Look at the momentum; Delaware may end up being the first legislatively enacted legalization next year, changing the game at the federal level permanently.

      And if either Florida or Arkansas pass a medical law we pierce the southern “conservative” stronghold for non-voter-initiative states, while Democrats run away with the traditionally conservative doners. Republican voters are tired of being misrepresented on marijuana policy and many are willing to go “conservative Democrat” to prove it, in a way America hasn’t seen since LBJ was followed by Nixon.

      And Sheldon’s puppet Vegas Tribune tying endorsements of prohibition and Trump is killing Republicans in this election, and freeing Democrats to finally help out marijuana-friendly Progressives on the lower ballot. FINALLY Hillary! Back up what Sanders has been doing all along!

      Game on Sheldon. Pot’s right… and almost legal!

    4. Julian says:


      Just google; Sheldon Adelson darth vader

    5. Matt says:

      saw a report with him in it I THINK on Maddow. Very sorry to hear about his son’s struggles, death, for both of them…..wish him peace and them wellness, the one eternal rest….but truly, good studies from RAND, Netherlands. I can understand why he would be opposed, but marijuana and such harder and horrible drugs are simply not the same. And I certainly cannot stand with that other elderly gentleman in Florida, who is apparently, what, wants to raise 10 mil to fight medical marijuana? Sigh…and it might be true, could marijuana use provide relief from harder drugs and addiction to hard drugs, alcohol? Good article, I was just wondering about Mr. Adelson after watching a bit of a report, I think it was on MSNBC or somewhere just hours ago.

    6. Cat Cassie says:

      Well I guess we will just have to put up with idiots like these two until prohibition is dead and buried.

    7. GOD says:

      an open letter to Sheldon Adelson,

      from GOD;

      I, took your son, as a lesson to you…

      BUT !!!!;

      you did not learn your lesson !!!!

      you made millions and millions of dollars,

      by FEEDING the addictions of gamblers !!

      so; I took your son,
      from you,
      with ADDICTION.

      MORE OBVIOUS !!!

      but, you STILL MISSED THE MESSAGE !!!

      and now,
      you are ‘doubling down’;

      you are waging a war,
      against a plant that IS NOT ADDICTIVE !!!

      A PLANT I MADE !!!

      this is your last chance;






      or rot in HELL,

      for ALL ETERNITY,

      EXACTLY as you deserve…

      what you do,

      unto the least of my children;




      ME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    8. Mark Mitcham says:

      I reject Kennedy’s “addictive personality” theory of addiction. I believe this is a view that holds addiction as a character weakness and a moral failing. But some careful thought will reveal that this belief flies in the face of the evidence.

      First, a little common sense: while it’s true that you might meet the occasional Hunter S. Thompson clone from time to time, still in general, that’s not how most drug addicts behave.

      Consider your own every-day observations. Let’s start with the most addictive (and most deadly) recreational drug of all: nicotine. I would venture to say that most nicotine addicts are not equally draw to other drugs like heroin, LSD, or even marijuana. Most tobacco addicts do not become alcohol addicts as a matter of course.

      Similarly, the bars of America are filled with alcoholics who would never dream of taking heroin or LSD… what they might consider “doing drugs.”

      But more scientifically, please recall a recent NORML blog in which Keith Stroup listed the ADDICTION RATES for various drugs; if you recall, they varied wildly. For example, the addiction rate for tobacco is very high, but the addiction rate for alcohol is much lower, and so on.

      This is all inconsistent with the “addictive personality” theory of addiction, which is really just a pseudo-scientific version of Religion: drug use as a “sin” and a moral failing.

      There is a moral component to recovery from addiction, to be sure. But the “addictive personality” model of addiction mischaracterizes the moral responsibilities involved.

      The strategy of Harm Reduction is a better choice for dealing with drug abuse in society.

      • Mark Mitcham says:

        There is another point to consider: it has been well established that cannabis is medically beneficial, and in some cases, the only medicine that works. But if a patient needs cannabis, but isn’t aware of that fact, or just doesn’t have access to cannabis, then that patient is very likely to try a plethora of alternative medications in a desperate and futile attempt to balance and nourish their endo-cannabinoid systems.

        They may seek relief from alcohol, opiates, or other medications; and in turn, that behavior can easily be mistaken for drug addiction or drug dependency, or so-called addictive personality. But in such a case, the patient is additionally suffering from a denial of necessary medicine, which I consider a human-rights violation.

        But my point here is that marijuana prohibition injects bias and invalidates scientific research in this more subtle way, in addition to making cannabis inaccessible to scientists.

    9. Miles says:

      Even though Sheldon Adelson has more than a thousand times more money than most people I feel pity for him. I have plenty of reasons for that:

      He will be dead soon and will never have known the pleasure and healing properties that cannabis could have given him.

      He will not be remembered fondly once he dies. Most will probably remember him as a mean old man and be glad he is dead.

      His efforts to stop cannabis legalization will fail since most people, particularly the most highly educated, understand that prohibition is harmful and must end.

      I doubt that he has ever felt love.

      • Cyndy says:

        Do not kid yourself. Sheldon is not against medical weed. He is against Americans making any money from it. He heavily invests in research and production of medical weed in ISRAEL !

    10. Anonymous says:

      I can confirm myself with my personal experience that, if anything; marijuana is NOT a way IN, but OUT of other harmful drugs.

      I enjoy recreational use of drugs and before trying marijuana I would do alcohol or benzos (benzos because I could easily access them from the hospital I worked at). Sometimes both of them (with the potential risk involved, as they synergize).

      I was taking two drugs which can POTENTIALLY KILL me. And both are readily available to purchase (or get by other means). And they are not even ranked as the most harmful.