Obama Gets Ready To Evolve, Again

At last, there is a hint that President Obama might someday spend a nickel of his fast-diminishing political capital on reforming marijuana laws.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest addressed marijuana reform at the daily press briefing earlier this week. “The president does not, at this point, advocate a change in the law,” Earnest said, though he added that Obama does not think cracking down on individual marijuana users is a good use of federal resources, either.

What makes this different from the many other measured comments Obama has made on the subject since he took office?

For one thing, the timing is telling. The White House’s comment comes on the heels of the announcement that the Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level nonviolent drug offenses. Meanwhile, states that have passed legalization laws, especially Colorado and Washington, continue to wait for a clear signal from the Justice Department on how it will respond to the conflict of state and federal law on the issue.

Many have also interpreted the comments as an indirect response to a column by Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. Gupta, a neurosurgeon as well as a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, was reportedly offered the position of surgeon general in 2009, though he withdrew his name from consideration. Gupta’s Aug. 9 column garnered quite a bit of attention – especially as it represented a reversal of his previous position on marijuana use.

“We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States,” Gupta wrote, “and I apologize for my own role in that.” The column explains that Gupta has been since convinced by evidence that cannabis has low abuse potential and legitimate medical applications that can’t be easily duplicated by alternatives.

Legalization advocates hoped that Gupta’s column might trigger a similar reversal – or, perhaps more aptly, an evolution – in the president’s position. After all, the president has already shown that his stance on social issues can turn on a dime once popular sentiment is behind him. (His evolution on marriage equality springs to mind.) I have always assumed that Obama, whose past use of marijuana is no secret, is privately in favor of legalization as long as it doesn’t hurt him politically. This stance has led him to his public position that the government has “bigger fish to fry” than fixing pointless laws rooted in untruth that brand thousands of Americans as criminals every day.

Yet the resources currently spent on pursuing the “war on drugs” on the enforcement side, not to mention the strain on our court system in dealing with the offenders, mean this issue is not as small as Obama has previously suggested. A recent report from the ACLU that focused on the disparity between arrests for possession between white and black offenders also observed that marijuana possession charges make up nearly half of total drug arrests.

Yesterday would not have been soon enough to end this craziness. I have written often about the nonsensical stance the federal government has been forced to take as it holds two contradictory ideas about marijuana at once – that it is one of the most dangerous drugs available and has no valid medical use on the one hand, and that it is a relatively low-priority issue that states can handle on the other. Holding both ideas is untenable, especially now that state positions have shifted.

The political winds may be gathering enough force to push the president where he ought to be going. This is a chief executive who has the courage of his pollsters’ convictions. Twenty states, as well as the District of Columbia, have voted to approve marijuana for medical applications; two have decriminalized cannabis entirely.

This momentum is going to force the president into a choice sooner or later. It is becoming clearer that he wants to leave the door open to make the right one whenever he eventually decides to step through.

About Larry M. Elkin 553 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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