What happens in Vegas may not stay there

Casino hot shot Sheldon Adelson is a fan of booze and gambling but not marijuana.
Wikimedia Commons/ Bectrigger

Before the Las Vegas Review-Journal was against legalizing recreational marijuana in Nevada, it was for it.

All in, lean in for it.

On May 30, 2014, as legalization advocates began circulating a petition to put recreational marijuana on the Nevada ballot, the Review-Journal published an editorial titled “Legalizing recreational pot is good policy.”

It said, “Nevada voters have an opportunity to end America’s costly drug war,” called the legalization initiative “an important step forward in fixing a failed policy” and concluded that “If you are presented with the petition, and you’re a registered voter, sign it.”

A lot of people took the paper’s advice. The petition circulators had little trouble collecting the 101,000-plus signatures they needed.

A year later, in a July 26, 2015 editorial, the Review-Journal added that it supported legalization “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 the inescapable fact that no amount of government pressure has ever reduced demand for illegal drugs in the United States.”

And on November 29, 2015, the Review-Journal urged all presidential candidates to support removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

But now the Review-Journal is singing a different tune.

In a June 7, 2016 editorial titled “Pot legalization a bad bet for Nevada,” the paper opined that “recreational weed comes with health, safety, and social costs that make legalizing marijuana a dangerous proposal for Nevadans.”

The editorial goes on to cite most of the drug war’s hoarier talking points and lies — including this gem of a paragraph:

“Marijuana contains nearly 500 dangerous chemicals when inhaled or ingested, including about five times more tars and other cancer-causing agents than tobacco smoke. Cancer, respiratory diseases, mental illness, birth defects, reproductive problems, and irreversible brain damage are all linked to marijuana.”

For the record, coffee contains more than 1,000 compounds with scary sounding names. And the “pot smoke is more carcinogenic than tobacco” chestnut was debunked in 2005 by Dr. Donald Tashkin of the UCLA medical school after spending much of his professional career trying to prove that pot was indeed carcinogenic.

And a few weeks ago, an exhaustive study spanning decades concluded that the only long-term health risk it could associate with pot was periodontal disease — prompting one commentator to remark that smoking pot was about as risky as not flossing.

So what prompted the Review-Journal to come down with a case of raving reefer madness? Hint: It wasn’t an epiphany on the road to Damascus — or even Winnemucca.

It turns out that last year the paper was bought by multi-billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who in the past has poured millions of dollars into efforts to keep marijuana illegal. Adelson paid $140 million for the Review-Journal. Legalization advocates were quick to make the obvious point about Adelson’s anti-pot crusade, which is that his concern about addiction is self-servingly selective. The guy’s fortune is built on pushing gambling and alcohol at his pleasure palaces, both of which are more addictive than pot and, in the case of alcohol at least, orders of magnitude more deadly. If he were prevented from selling either, his financial empire would collapse.

But Adelson’s hypocrisy is beside the point. What matters is that what happens in Vegas is unlikely to stay in Vegas this year. Recreational marijuana legalization initiatives in Massachusetts and Maine are already running into well-organized and well-funded opposition, as in a medical marijuana initiative in Florida. Chances are, Adelson money is helping to fund all of them.

If those initiatives lose, chances are we will be revisiting legalization in Colorado, and not in a good way.

Legalization advocates do not have to match Adelson dollar for dollar to prevail, but they have to have sufficient funds to get their message out and counter his lies. The lead organization in this year’s legalization campaign in Nevada and several other states is the Marijuana Policy Project (www.mpp.org). It’s going to need millions of dollars more than it has to fight a multi-front war. If you want to see marijuana made legal, and kept legal, you better get some skin in the game. Starting now. 


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