Obama’s Smoky Little Fish

When a president does not want to deal with an inconvenient or embarrassing issue, he will sometimes convene an outside panel whose advice he can ignore. (See: Obama, deficits; Obama, unemployment.)

Other times, the commander-in-chief simply suggests that the matter in question is not worth his presidential time, or that there is nothing he can do unless Congress acts first. (See: Obama, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac.)

When it comes to managing the growing conflict between federal and state policies on marijuana, President Obama – who is no stranger to the weed, or to the hypocrisy and caprice with which the law treats its users – takes the latter approach. In an interview with Barbara Walters last week, Obama said resolving the clash between state and federal marijuana laws is not a high priority for his administration, regardless of how millions of pot aficionados may feel.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he said of recreational marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, where voters recently opted to legalize the drug.

This is the same president who decided, on his own, to overhaul the way immigration laws are applied to certain groups, notably young people. And though the administration continues to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, the executive branch did at least declare it would no longer defend the law in court.

Obama, like all presidents, prefers to pick his own fights. And like all presidents in the past four decades, he emphatically does not want to pick a fight with the web of federal, state and local law enforcers who make much of their living in the futile attempt to block recreational marijuana use. The hypocrisy keeps mounting, as at least the past three presidents have all used marijuana themselves, and probably none more than Obama, who is known to have been a member of the “Choom Gang” in his high school days. (“Choom” was local slang for pot.)

Despite his scorn for the smallness of the marijuana issue, there is no sign that the president has told his Justice Department, its staff of federal prosecutors, or the Drug Enforcement Administration to back off prosecutions in order to conserve resources for more important matters. In stark contrast to his position on immigration, the president insists that when it comes to marijuana, the law is the law.

Going after individual users has never been federal policy, but the DEA has aggressively pursued medical marijuana dispensaries in California, which are legal on the state level. Large-scale growers and distributors in Colorado and Washington run the same risk until either Congress changes the law or the courts rule that federal power to regulate intrastate marijuana traffic is limited.

Matthew Yglesias, a political blogger for Slate, observed that, “As a matter of institutional culture, getting the DEA to back off is like trying to get a dog to not run after squirrels.” This is especially true when the president refuses to keep the DEA on a leash.

Obama told Walters that, “at this point,” he still does not support general legalization, despite his own history with the drug. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the Justice Department will announce a policy on the conflict between state and federal law “relatively soon.” That is, as with the president’s evolved position on gay rights, just as soon as it is clear which way the political winds are blowing.

Obama and his administration do have bigger fish to fry. But there’s room in the pan for this one too, if they want to squeeze it in.

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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