You know something has gone awry when one of Las Vegas’s most influential editorials, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, suddenly does an 180° on an issue they’ve been actively supporting for decades—marijuana legalization. Why has the local media outlet suddenly changed its mind on pot legalization and the marijuana legalization debate? The answer is Sheldon Adelson, the strong anti-marijuana conservative billionaire who bought the paper for $140 million in December of 2015. This is the same guy who basically bankrolled the 2014 opposition to the medical marijuana initiative in Florida.
The problem is not Sheldon’s anti-marijuana position (everyone is entitled to their own opinion). The problem is that his own opinion influenced the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial staff enough to push aside reporting facts while parroting prohibitionist talking points.
The Review-Journal recently published two anti-marijuana legalization articles, in which pot prohibition propaganda is sprinkled throughout. Does marijuana really have five times more tars and other cancer-causing agents as tobacco? Is cancer, respiratory diseases, mental health problems, and brain damage associated with marijuana use? Is legalization really not bringing in all the money that was expected in Colorado? A little research on these matters suggests a more complex answer than these blanket statements.
In a recent editorial, Pot Legalization a Bad Bet for Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal suggests that Colorado was supposed to bring $40 million annually in marijuana taxes for schools but are actually only bringing in about half those numbers. However, in our own research on the subject, Fortune reported that Colorado actually brought in more than $135 million in taxes last year, in which about $35 million of that total went straight to schools.
On the other side of that issue, Forbes reports that marijuana legalization could take $10 billion away from the cartels and illegal drug dealers, and that money would go right back into the economy and taxpayers pockets. Instead, taxpayers currently fund prison stays for drug convictions that translate to $100,000 society spends for a three-year sentence. So the 90 inmates that the Las Vegas Review-Journal claims are the only amount of incarcerated individuals that would be released if marijuana legalization passed would actually save taxpayers up to $9 million or more.
In the same Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial, the author stated that marijuana contains nearly 500 dangerous chemicals, including five times more tars and other cancer-causing agents as tobacco. They go on to claim that marijuana use is linked to cancer, respiratory diseases, mental illness, brain damage, and more.
It’s funny; we also found a link between marijuana and cancer – in that it reduces tumor sizes and might actually cure cancer. Norml.org reports that the THC and CBD found in marijuana “are non-carcinogenic and demonstrate anti-cancer properties.” Even cancer.org admits that cannabinoids are beneficial in treating cancer-related side effects and more research being done consistently shows the benefits of marijuana in treating cancer. So why would doctors prescribe medical cannabis to treat cancer side-effects if medical cannabis caused cancer? We don’t get it either.
While it’s true that marijuana does contain more tar than cigarettes, one fact remains entirely true: Marijuana has caused zero deaths ever. WHO reports that cigarettes kill about 6 million people annually. The CDC claims that tobacco kills over 480,000 Americans annually. If marijuana is chalk filled with deadly chemicals and tar, why has no one died from marijuana use but so many people die from cigarette use every year?
There is a staunch difference between cigarettes and marijuana, and comparing them does a disservice to the truth about how harmful each substance is for your body. What’s the difference?
When it comes to marijuana and the brain, the truth is more research needs to be done before definitive statements can be made either way. Some of the latest research on marijuana and the brain found that long-term and adolescent use of marijuana does not change GM (gray matter in the brain). They also found that pot smokers had larger cerebelli—an area of the brain that naturally shrinks over time but not as much in long-term pot smokers. Another study that used the data from the Human Connectome Projects (a huge research effort covering multiple nations) found that there are no links between cannabis and brain abnormalities. In fact, a study recently reported that marijuana use does not damage DNA, another popular claim from marijuana opponents.
Marijuana’s effects on mental illness is also a complex issue that needs more research. That being said, the DEA just recently approved the study of marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD (a well-known mental health illness that affects millions of people, especially veterans). Another study published recently claims that using marijuana is not associated with the development of mood and anxiety disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder, which adds to prior research debunking the connection between marijuana and mental illness. Speaking of depression, did you know that cannabis was used to treat depression for more than 400 years prior to prohibition? And when it comes to marijuana and schizophrenia, Harvard scientists confirm that marijuana does not cause schizophrenia.
In looking at other societal issues, many marijuana opponents, now including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, claim that pot is a gateway drug that puts a serious strain on healthcare facilities and cause higher crime rates. After all, what else would happen with a bunch of stoned people walking around…
However, with another close look at the facts, the exact opposite is proving to be more true. MSNBC reported back in 2014 that Colorado crime rate actually decreased after the legalization of recreational marijuana. In fact, violent crime fell by almost 7% during the first quarter of 2014, when legalized recreational marijuana first came into effect. Not only does marijuana use not correlate positively with crime rate, but it may also reduce it.
While it is true that Colorado has experienced a higher rate of tourists in emergency hospital rooms, the rate of residents visiting hospital emergency rooms has stayed the same. The truth is Colorado, naturally at a higher elevation, has more potent weed available, which sometimes leads to marijuana use exacerbating medical problems for tourists. Tourists who try out legal marijuana from Colorado should understand the potential risks and plan accordingly. But there are always risks. If you decide to go skiing while in Colorado, you run the risk of breaking a leg and heading to the hospital. It’s important to understand the risks associated with trying anything new—not just blaming marijuana for people’s lack of understanding how it can affect their bodies.
When it comes to other drugs, the truth is marijuana is much safer than heroin or crack cocaine for example. But that doesn’t mean some users won’t get addicted to marijuana over time. Approximately 9% of heavy marijuana users become addicted, but that is relatively rare when compared with other illicit drugs. But, considering the fact that marijuana use has led to zero deaths ever, we are not sure where the Las Vegas Review-Journal is getting the number of 45,000 Americans dying a year (which we cannot find because the source was not cited either). When looking at teen marijuana use, research found that marijuana use disorders among US adolescents actually dropped by about 24% over an 11 year period.
When comparing marijuana to other drugs, all other drugs should be evaluated—not just the illegal ones. When comparing marijuana use to opioid use, it is undeniable that in states with legal medical marijuana, deaths related to opioid painkillers dropped by 25%. America has a pretty big addiction to prescription drugs. About 46 people die everyday from overdoses related to pharmaceutical opioid drugs. But, in states with medical marijuana, those death rates dropped dramatically.
In another recent piece by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, More Incidents of Workplace Pot use Reported After Legalization in Colorado, Expert Says, they claim that workplace use of marijuana has increased from 6% to 20% in Colorado. The increased use is based on data provided by one drug testing company (not a very strong set of data in our opinion). What they failed to mention is that marijuana can show up in your system long after the effects wear off. How can they be sure that people are high on marijuana while on the job when there still is no effective way to test if users are actually under the influence? A new AAA study just called for scrapping laws that create a threshold of THC-blood content to tell if someone is under the influence of the substance because it is not scientifically valid. When it comes to testing if people are high on marijuana, it’s not a simple as testing if someone is under the influence of alcohol, and this approach is “not supported by scientific research.”
As we mentioned, the Las Vegas Review-Journal did not always spout such anti-pot language. When pot advocates were collecting signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot, the Review-Journal called it, “an important step in fixing a failed policy.” In another piece, the editorial board stated, “as with gay marriage, public opinion has shifted on recreational marijuana.” Another piece concluded: “marijuana is mainstream, and there’s no turning back.”
And yet, it looks like there is turning back for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The editorial board does not even acknowledge this stark change in position, let alone justify it. Although Adelson has made billions of dollars through people gambling at his casinos and drinking the alcohol he sells, he has launched a moral attack against marijuana use, demanding that the government continue to punish marijuana consumers.
If you think Adelson is the only pot-prohibitionist we have to worry about in November when it’s time to vote, you’re wrong. As it turns out, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is raising money for their anti-legalization efforts, and they are looking at Adelson to be their knight in shining Las Vegas.
As it turns out, recreational marijuana legalization will be facing some fierce opponents in the coming months to November, even though more than 6 in 10 Americans support legalization of some form. We can rehash the pros and cons of medical marijuana, but the politics speak for themselves.
Stop by Las Vegas ReLeaf to learn more about marijuana legalization efforts and which medical marijuana strains are best for your medical condition. Las Vegas ReLeaf, a premier Nevada medical marijuana dispensary, is located just 500 feet from the Las Vegas Strip and is an advocate for marijuana legalization in Sin City, Nevada, and beyond.