Sheldon Adelson is a thorn in the side of all kinds of decent people. He has been the driving force behind a campaign against a federal online gambling law, because he hates fun. He was the overwhelming largest donor to Newt Gingrich’s last failed presidential bid, because he hates not having his own puppet in the nationally televised primary debates. And now, because he apparently loves the Drug War and hates sick people seeking relief, his nearly single-handed backing of a Florida campaign could swing an expected close vote on a medical marijuana law.
At stake this November is the passage of the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, also known as Amendment 2. The amendment would legalize marijuana for medical use, protecting “individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician” and those physicians themselves, and the licensed medical marijuana treatment centers where the patients buy their medicine from legal liability under state law. If it passes, the Florida Department of Health will be given the task of implementing the new law so that patients who suffer from conditions like AIDS, ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease can get relief.
Amendment 2 enjoys a lot of support. The people of Florida are clearly for medical marijuana: polling consistently shows that 7 out of 10 Floridians support legalization of medical pot regardless of party. Newspaper editorial boards have been heavily in favor of it as well, with five pro-Amendment 2 pieces appearing in major papers around the state compared to just one against it. And a collection of current and former public officials, current candidates for office like Charlie Crist, and individuals like Orlando attorney John Morgan, who funded the drive to get the Amendment on the ballot, also back the measure.
As for who’s against it, it’s the usual suspects: cops, churches and Sheldon Adelson. And as usual, he’s picking up most of the tab. Adelson yesterday gave another $1 million to Drug Free Florida, bringing his total contribution so far to $5 million. That’s 86% of the $5.8 million total the organization has brought in from all donors, only two others of whom have even made six-figure donations. (One of those is the all-around awful Mel Sembler.)
In other words, the only reason that anybody is still talking about the anti-Amendment 2 campaign is because Sheldon Adelson shook out the change from his couch cushions. And they’re talking, too, especially about a distortion-filled ad claiming that anybody who wants to buy pot, including children, will be able to regardless of their health if Amendment 2 is passed. Never mind that the measure only reached the ballot after being cleared by the state’s Supreme Court, or that the state itself would be in charge of determining who’s allowed to buy medical marijuana – the viewer is being told directly, in rapid-fire fashion, by everyday-looking people, that the state is getting ready to unleash hell on Florida families in the form of an AIDS patient smoking a joint.
Beyond being a spit in the face of anyone who lives in reality, Adelson’s meddling with the campaign has become a major problem for Amendment 2’s supporters. Instead of coordinating the final days of a fact-based campaign to convince voters to give sick people medicine they can use, they’re spending valuable time and resources countering blatant lies. Yesterday they issued cease-and-desist letters to keep TV stations from airing the ad, a move that didn’t work out as planned. In the letter, supposed to be sent to stations around the state who aired the spots, former University of Florida College of Law dean Jon Mills said the ads “were inaccurate, deceptive, and constitute a deliberate, knowing misinterpretation of the facts” and could leave the stations legally liable if they continued to air them. Then they learned that the spot was only being shown on the web, and that they had contacted the TV stations in error.
Adelson’s money has already thrown a wrench into the gears. The million he gave the bad guys in this campaign is more than pro-Amendment 2 forces have left in their account. Even if they can match their opponents’ pace with fundraising and media buys in an attempt to counter the Vote No On 2 over the last week of the campaign, the old man can drop a few more million into Drug Free Florida’s account to keep tipping the scales essentially anytime. And there’s no reason to expect he won’t if he thinks he needs to, since he is the most reliable conservative political donor around.
Even if Adelson never spends another dime, once the lie is out there, some people who believe it can’t be convinced that it isn’t true. A decade after 9/11, 38% of Americans still believed there was clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was Al Qaeda’s sugar daddy when it came to dropping the Twin Towers. This is a standard Adelson tactic, as we’ve seen time and time again when it comes to online gambling. No doubt someone out there believes that underage kids are bankrupting their parents playing online poker in Nevada and New Jersey, despite the fact that there hasn’t been a single case since the two states went live, all because he listened to the lies spread by the owner of the Venetian casino. And one week before the election, someone in Florida surely believes kids will be able to buy pot without their parents knowing if Amendment 2 passes.
To pass, Amendment 2 needs the support of 60% of voters who turn out to the polls next week. On average, the measure has attracted 66% support in polls conducted between last November and today. None of those numbers reflect the willful distortions that Adelson has introduced into the conversation, so it’s unclear what kind of effect they’ll have. But if Uncle Shelly’s Reefer Madness frightens enough people to turn out, they could counterbalance the otherwise-apathetic young people the measure is expected to attract to the polls. If that happens and the measure fails, sick people in Florida will know exactly where to lay the blame.