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Will Sheldon Adelson Use Nevada Paper to Sink Legal Marijuana?

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Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s recent purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper is generating headlines and controversy. But not much public attention has been drawn to the possible implications his owning of the newspaper could have on this year’s effort to legalize marijuana in Nevada.

Adelson is the 18th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, and he is a staunch opponent of not just marijuana legalization but even of allowing access to medical cannabis. He donated the lion’s share of funds in opposition to a medical marijuana initiative that was narrowly defeated by Florida voters in 2014.

Nevada already has a medical marijuana law, and advocates have qualified a full legalization measure for this November’s statewide ballot.

To date, the Review-Journal’s editorial board has consistently opined in favor of marijuana law reform, as recently as last month, when it criticized the U.S. Postal Service for threatening newspapers that print ads for cannabis businesses.

In November the paper editorialized that presidential candidates should endorse the removal of marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, calling such a move “an important — and long overdue — start to changing the costly trajectory of the failed war on drugs.”

The Review-Journal has also published a number of editorials calling on Nevada to craft medical cannabis regulations that aren’t overly burdensome on patients and providers.

And, the paper has called for the outright legalization of marijuana.

In 2002, the editorial board endorsed a marijuana legalization initiative that appeared on Nevada’s ballot that year, writing that it would give “Nevadans an opportunity to bring sanity to the state’s overly burdensome drug enforcement policy” and “would end the needless harassment of individuals who peacefully and privately use marijuana — including seriously ill patients who should have some legal protection, not to mention peace of mind, because they’re covered by the medical marijuana program.”

It has already offered praise for the current push to legalize marijuana in the Silver State, writing in May 2014 that illegal cannabis “remains everywhere — at schools and streetcorners, in public housing and affluent suburbs.

“Bringing all this commerce into the sunshine, and turning all the people who grow, process and sell marijuana into taxpayers, is a far more practical course,” the board wrote. “If you are presented with the petition, and you’re a registered voter, sign it.”

But as the Review-Journal’s new owner, prohibitionist Adelson has the power to shape the paper’s editorial stances to his liking. If the current editorial board isn’t willing to opine the way he wants, he can fire and replace them.

Undecided voters often look to endorsements from opinion leaders such as newspaper editorial boards when making up their minds on ballot questions, so if polls are close as Election Day approaches, Adelson’s influence could make the difference between legalization and continued prohibition in Nevada.

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