Business tycoon and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is at it again. The billionaire has chosen yet another political cause and is backing it wholeheartedly with his money. This time, it's the Drug Free Florida committee he's supporting. Critics believe Adelson chose the anti-marijuana group as a way to influence powerful Republicans and expand his gambling business in Florida.
At Issue: Medical Marijuana in Florida
This November, Florida voters will decide whether they're willing to let state doctors prescribe medical marijuana. The referendum is known as “Amendment 2” and is the center of a heated debate in the state. The movement to legalize medical marijuana got its initial boost from Orlando attorney John Morgan. Morgan donated close to $5 million to fund People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM. The attorney hosts a website to support his cause and has sponsored an online petition urging politicians to approve the use of prescribed marijuana. The petition's slogan: “For the People. Not the Powerful. Help Us Bring Compassionate Care to Florida!”
Kim Russell formed the PUFMM to honor her grandmother, a woman who desperately needed medical marijuana for her glaucoma condition but refused to break the law. According to PUFMM, Russell's grandmother could have benefited from a prescription, but she dutifully placed her adherence to the law above her own health needs.
Republicans Back the Drug Free Florida Campaign
Morgan has a fight in front of him. The Republican party of Florida opposes the legalization of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State. That's where Adelson comes in: He's contributed $2.5 million to the Drug Free Florida campaign. The like-minded Florida Sheriffs' Association is working in tandem with Adelson on their own campaign to defeat Amendment 2. Their effort is called the “Don't Let Florida Go to Pot” coalition.
A spokesman for the Sheriffs' Association called Amendment 2 a “wolf in sheep's clothing.” Although the intention to help sick people with medical marijuana prescriptions sounds earnest enough, many fear that legal use of the drug would quickly lead to abuse. Amendment 2 is poorly worded, according to critics, leaving too much wiggle room for drug users and dealers with less-than-pure intentions.
Under the amendment, people with the following medical conditions would be eligible for medical marijuana use: AIDS, ALS, cancer, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV status (different from AIDS), multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease. Doctors prescribing the drug, and the patients who receive it, would be required to use only certified dispensaries. The drug would be administered through oil and vapor form only; it would not be smoked.
Adelson: Boosting Governor Rick Scott
Adelson is a long-time supporter of Florida governor Rick Scott, who happens to face re-election this year. Critics have wondered aloud whether Adelson's support of Drug Free Florida is linked to his hope that Scott gets re-elected. At a recent press conference, reporters asked Scott directly whether he thought Adelson was bankrolling the anti-marijuana movement in attempt to help him with his re-election. “You'd have to ask Sheldon,” the governor responded, skirting the issue.
The link between Adelson, Scott, and the medical marijuana issue can be confusing, especially considering the fact that Scott surprised his constituents last May by admitting he won't try to veto Amendment 2 if it is passed by voters. The Miami Herald reported Scott's surprising intentions and reflected on the drug's ability to immediately save lives, especially those of children with epilepsy.
Casino Money vs. Medical Marijuana
Whatever Adelson's true motivations are, this isn't the first time casino resources have been used to fight the legalization of medical marijuana. Back in 2000, Nevada casinos took a stand against the drug's legalization in their state. They ultimately failed, however, and qualifying Nevada citizens do enjoy the right to medically condoned cannabis.
Federal Law vs. State Law
One reason why Nevada casinos will not support medical marijuana is that its existence violates federal law. Currently, the U.S. federal government prohibits the growth of cannabis for any purpose. A recent memo from the state's Gaming Control Board advised that, unless federal laws are reversed, “the board does not (support) . . . involvement in a medical marijuana facility” because to do so would not be “consistent with the effective regulation of gaming.”
Another Adelson Project: The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling
Adelson is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands corporation. The octogenarian has spent his life accumulating money through his business and applying it toward the charities and causes of his choice. One of his other pet projects right now is the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Adelson has vowed to use his money to fight the expansion of legalized online gambling in America.
Supporters of the coalition cite increased crime and the exposure of children to gambling as reasons to prohibit online gambling expansion. Adelson's true motives have been questioned by many, however; critics believe his effort to crush internet gambling is a reflection of his desire to promote brick-and-mortar casino gambling, which would only help his Sands business.
Adelson rules his Sands empire and is currently worth about $37 billion, according to a May 2014 report from Forbes magazine. He also owns an Israeli daily paper called Israel YaHom and operates the Adelson Foundation, a charity initiated by his wife, Miriam, that protects Jewish interests in America.
He once said that he opposes "very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections." In the next breath, however, he added that, "as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it." Adelson has expressed confidence in his convictions, saying, "I have my own philosophy and I'm not ashamed of it."
Whether he's a casino billionaire with a selfish agenda or an idiosyncratic character who doesn't care what others think, one thing is for certain: Adelson is powerful, and he puts his money where his heart is. Critics are likely to speculate on his true intentions for the rest of Adelson's life, and Adelson doesn't seem to mind.