January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
7 months ago

Obama says marijuana ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’

Washington (CNN) – Marijuana, which is still placed in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms by the federal government, is no more dangerous than alcohol, President Barack Obama said in an interview published Sunday.

Speaking to New Yorker editor David Remnick, Obama said he still viewed pot smoking negatively – but that on the whole, the drug wasn’t the social ill that it’s been viewed as in the past.


“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told the weekly magazine.

The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

“It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” he said.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use. Another 18, along with the District of Columbia, allow some legal pot use, primarily for medicinal purposes. But when it comes to federal law, marijuana remains a schedule 1 controlled substance - a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use - and the White House has said that Obama doesn’t support changing that status.

Instead, Obama said in the New Yorker interview that he’s focused on making laws that treat users fairly.

“We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he told Remnick.

In August, Obama’s Justice Department announced it would not challenge legalization in Colorado and Washington, and instead focus federal enforcement on trafficking cases and preventing pot from getting in the hands of kids. Prosecutors are now required to focus on distinct enforcement priorities that also include preventing driving while high and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands.

In the New Yorker, Obama said Colorado and Washington’s laws were “important” since they decriminalized a commonly used substance. But he also said the laws could raise questions for other illegal substances.

“If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka, are we open to that?” Obama wondered. “If somebody says, We’ve got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”


Filed under: Obama administration
soundoff (1,076 Responses)
  1. George

    Funny how Obama picks and chooses what federal laws, state laws and states rights he will, or will not enforce/respect.

    January 19, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  2. Man

    I think anyone, whether part of the medical community or just an experienced observer/user, would support the idea that not only is weed no more dangerous than alcohol, but that alcohol is much more destructive and dangerous than weed in spite of it's legal status vs. weed. That being said, I'm not for more alcohol restrictions, but weed restrictions make no sense.

    January 19, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  3. matrix

    cocain is used in medical practice. comparing cannabis to meth and heroin is like comparing pepto to toothpaste, they are completely different things. Obama said pot isn't anymore dangerous than booze, but refuses to schedule it.....why? Pot doesn't kill you and it doesn't rot your teeth, so comparing it to things that do that makes no logic, battery acid can kill you so we should ban milk because battery acid can kill you....yeah dont understand

    January 19, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  4. dave

    I had always heard that 10% of people who drink will become alcoholic. I could not quickly find a statistic to back that up. The National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that 1 in 4 people who drink heavily will become alcohol dependent. Heavy drinking is defined as more than 14 drinks per week or more than 4 drinks in one day for men. Their statistics also say that about 42% of men self report heavy drinking. S, if 42 men out of 100drink heavily, and 1 in four of those become alcohol dependent, that is about 10% of the male population. The numbers are slightly lower for women. About 5 drinks in two hours will put most people over a .08 blood alcohol level. The funny thing about pot is the two camps: those who say it is harmless and those who say it is extremely harmful. With alcohol, I think most people would agree that having a beer with pizza or a beer at a ballgame is not harmful, but getting drunk on a regular basis is harmful. Most people who drink do not get drunk. What is the responsible use of pot? I know who people who flunked out of college because of pot abuse. I know people who smoked and graduated, even a couple who ended up on the US Supreme Court and in the White House. We trust people to learn from their parents, friends and experience about responsible alcohol use. Should we apply the same trust to pot? I am sure that heroin cocaine and meth are too addictive to ever be safely legal. Illegal bootleg booze still exists, but it takes a great deal of work and equipment to make it. Legal pot at $400/ounce is never going to put bootleggers out of business. Maybe when market prices settle, illegal dealers will lose business.

    January 19, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  5. Roland

    Alcohol is far more damaging then marijuana alcohol can make people lose control or become violent it also damages your liver and your brain.Marijuana does non of these things.It actually calms people down , stoned people are not troublemakers , drunks however...

    January 19, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  6. The Living Tribunal

    I don't know whether pot is harmful or not, but it's obviously much less harmful than many legal substances, most notably alcohol. Does anybody deny that?

    January 19, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  7. mona19595

    Well for once I agree with Mr. Obama it's a recreational vice for those of us who cannot drink or don't drink. But want that relaxed feeling at the end of the day. Let's face it the side effects of smoking pot are a mellow and fun mood, allows for exercise walking too and from the fridge and then you go to sleep, is any of this harmful? I don't think so and I think people would be surprised at just how many normal hard working people smoke it. There are people who take it to the extreme and smoke and smoke but none become violent and no one has ever died from it, the total opposite of alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  8. Gilmore

    SMOKING pot can affect the lungs, and has effects that would be caused by smoking anything. The legalize marijuana people like to deny that. THE PREFERRED MODE OF CANNABIS WOULD BE LIQUID CONCENTRATE. Not cookies, or ice cream, etc. that can be accidentally consumed by children, but an adult oriented non smoked form as is, traditionally, consumed in India.

    January 19, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  9. dave

    “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he told Remnick.

    January 19, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  10. dave

    “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing,” he told Remnick. agin

    January 19, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  11. Mopery

    The arguments against the legalization of marijuana are no different than those against the repeal of Prohibition over 80 years ago. If you replace the word "marijuana" with "alcohol" in most of those arguments the similarities will become strikingly clear.

    January 19, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  12. Sandra

    Still schedule 1? That's the stopping point for law enforcement. To liken this plant to any powder is ridiculous. This is the only schedule 1 substance that is non addictive and kills cancer as a raw plant.. In its vegetative state without the flowers which produce the "high" effect! It is still strong medicine WITH NO SIDE EFFECTS!! Why is this do difficult ? When it can save far more lives than it could ever threaten?

    January 19, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  13. cory

    Kids and young teens using marihuana is the fault of the parents not a government. People can speak their mind about the pro's and con's of our government. But at the end of the day what really makes the difference. Speaking to and educating your teen on the harm And or safty of a product can encourage them follow their own and your own guide lines.

    January 19, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  14. dave

    Medicinal pot and pot legal for recreational use should be two different topics

    January 19, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  15. C.C.Coats

    This is the first President who has had an honest discussion about drugs.

    January 19, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  16. michael

    I forgot what I was going to say.

    January 19, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  17. Atheistically Yours

    I wish Obama had the cajones to END THE "WAR ON DRUGS", and call outright for UPDATING the "Controlled Substances Act" (hasn't been updated since it was passed in 1970!). Marijuana deserves reclassification, NOW! Once the feds see how much TAX REVENUE, states like WA and CO are getting, they will reconsider pot's current illegality!

    January 19, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  18. bibleverse1

    I am not going to smoke. I support your right to smoke in the privacy of your own home.

    January 19, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. Matt

    Obama sounds as if he is for legalization, while still on the edge of satisfying those who don't think it should be. He needs to come right out and say that there is significant evidence that it is good for mankind. Humans have been using Marijuana for thousands of years. We as humans are MEANT to have this plants enlightening affect. Obama stated that it's a "waste of time" and "unhealthy", when in reality it is the opposite. If you have free time to drink, you have free time to smoke. I've had hundreds of experiences with Marijuana and I can tell you from personal experience my mind is still my own as well as my decision making process, although I might add Marijuana makes me consider my decions more as alcohol makes me feel superhuman. Legalizing Marijuana is not a gateway to legalizing the hard drugs. Marijuana is cultivated from the earth, not in a lab or someones garage.

    January 19, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  20. Eric

    Finally something he says I can agree with.

    January 19, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  21. VisigothattheGates

    I wish Obama had not said this; better he had just remained silent. Now all the Republicans have to disagree with him, as a matter of principle.

    January 19, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  22. saba

    I agree. I think it's not a good idea to poison a growing brain, but as an adult, people should be free to make their own choices. Just like alcohol, it should be regulated. No need to lock someone up for any length of time. The american people are not little kids that need to be supervised on how to treat their bodies. I think it's a bad habit but to put it into the same category as heroin is ridiculous. Other civilized countries are doing fine in having legalized marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  23. Ed

    I'm curious: Can a person smoke a single joint and still operate a vehicle unimpaired?

    I'm not trying to make a point; I really don't know the answer and would be curious to hear. My inclination is that legalization makes sense. But, although the average person can have a single drink and still drive without a problem, is the same true for marijuana?

    January 19, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  24. jeff

    I love the hypocrisy of drinkers trying to come up with excuses on why legalizing pot is a bad idea. Alcohol is the cause of so much violence and personal destruction – much, much more so that weed ever will be. The only reason these people are spewing their BS is because they are loosing one more thing to feel morally superior to other people about, despite the fact that they are lushes.

    January 19, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. RS

    Then STOP LOCKING UP PEOPLE FOR WEED... Obama.
    I have as much a problem with the as the NSA spying.

    January 19, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
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