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Nancy Smith

Why Is Sheldon Adelson Opposing Medical Marijuana?

June 15, 2014 - 6:00pm

When you're the eighth richest man on the planet, promoting casinos out of one side of your mouth and opposing drugs out of the other is neither irony nor hypocrisy -- it's eccentricity.

Still, how strange to see Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., sink $2.5 million into fighting Amendment 2, of all things, a Florida ballot issue looking to legalize medical marijuana.

Stranger still when you realize Adelson's own medical research organization, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, produced a study in December showingthat medical marijuana has the potential to help those suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Look closely at Adelson and you'll see a man who likes to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

For example, he's all about casino gambling -- the Las Vegas Sands Corp. is the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited, which operates The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.Yet, he puts up a fierce fight against Internet gambling on moral and ethical grounds. In an interview with Bloomberg Television, here's how he explains the difference between the two:"Coming from the business, I want to make money from those who can afford it. I can't tell over the Internet who is underage. I can't tell who's got financial difficulties. I can't tell who is not gaming responsibly. I can't tell if money is being laundered. I can in the casino."

Adelson is a Republican who used to be a Democrat. In fact, he still is a social liberal -- women have a right to choose, same-sex couples should be free to marry in every state, same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, he says.
After shelling out $93 million in 2012 for Republican campaigns, Adelson is building a new bridge to the Dems. He has expanded his stable of Democratic consultants to include California's charismatic former Democratic Assembly leader Fabian Nunez and former Clinton adviser Chris Lehane.

Adelson is one of the few Republican billionaires Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid can stomach. In fact, the Washington Post's Tom Hamburger says he and Reid -- both from Nevada -- remain friends. Reid apparently makesthe case that there's a big difference between the casino entrepreneur and the billionaire Koch brothers, whom he can't stick. Reid says the Kochs seek to influence climate and other policy for their own financial benefit, Adelson does not.

"I know Sheldon Adelson. He's not in this for money," Reid said of Adelson's political and philanthropic causes. "He's got money. He's in it because he has certain ideological views."

One of his longtime associates, speaking from Nevada on the condition of anonymity, corroborated Reid's theory about Adelson's motives: "He has $37 billion and he's looking at his 81st birthday in August," the associate told Sunshine State News. "I don't see him as much as I used to. But these days more than anything, Sheldon lets his stomach and his heart do his thinking for him. He does what he thinks and feels is right for himself and his friends. He's got a very strong moral and ethical streak."

My take on what's going on with Adelson can be summed up in two words: Mel Sembler.

Sembler, the GOP fundraiser, St. Petersburg anti-drug crusader, ambassador to Italy who couldn't speak a word of Italian -- and, oh, yes, the founder of drug-rehab-program-from-hell STRAIGHT Inc. -- is one of Adelson's oldest friends.

I've written a couple of times about STRAIGHT Inc. and its prisoner-of-war-style torture, unrelenting cover-ups and subsequent suicides. But Sembler has always defended the program, the tactics and the need to deal harshly with teens using -- even suspected of using -- drugs. My guess is,it was Sembler who went to work hustling money out of Adelson to oppose Amendment 2, and Adelson capitulated.

Think about it. Adelson has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marijuana research to get a single breakthrough on multiple sclerosis. His institute has been cautious. He's going the Food and Drug Administration route. Now, all of a sudden, he's shown a loosely written ballot amendment, penned and backed by a rich and powerful Democratic lawyer (John Morgan) trying to buy a governor (Charlie Crist) in the process -- plus maybe work out some extra goodies for himself.

You can imagine, with Sembler's special twist how that would offend Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson stopped giving money to Rick Scott a while back, according to newspaper stories. He and the governor had a falling out over Scott's gaming negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. So, Adelson just happened to have an extra $2.5 million lying around.

By his own account on Bloomberg Television, Adelson wants to control sin "when possible." He wants to regulate illegal activities like prostitution, drug abuse and gambling by minors. It's a rich old man's fancy. I'm not saying I agree with him, but I do suspect his motives are purer than either Sembler's or Morgan's.

My theory is this -- and that's all it is, a theory -- Sheldon Adelson is convinced John Morgan's amendment is a free-for-all invitation not to cure disease or lessen suffering, but to legalize what he believes (with a little help from his friend Mel Sembler) is an out-of-control and destructive way of life.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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