January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
11 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. spiderjosh

    Look at all the prudes on here who have drank the media cool-aid for way too long. While I have never tried it, I've been around pot most my life and it should be, and will be, legalized. When substances like alcohol and nicotine are legal, there is no reason a lesser substance like pot should still be illegal. Caffeine is more addictive! (I know... I'm hooked)

    January 19, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  2. Free the weed! Free folks to make a choice!

    O god please let Obama direct the DEA to reschedule pot to 2 or 3 there is no medical reason to keep it at class 1, no reason what so ever. Let the patient and the doctor decide what's best for them and put that wonderful tool back in the doctors bag.

    January 19, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  3. Gilbert S Lay

    What an idiot Obama is- what he and other liberals don't understand;( and I started smoking pot in high school back in 1967) is when it's readily available we tend to smoke more of it just like tobacco. Just watch and see Colorado pot smokers will end up smoking three packs of pot per day. As we have more of it we build up a resistance and it will take more to get a buzz. So now they will all die from lung cancer due to excessive pot smoking. Dumb and dumber in the WH.

    January 19, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  4. Carter Clark

    THE CONSTITUTION SAYS THAT YOU CAN'T HAVE A PRIVILEGE IN ONE STATE AND NOT ANOTHER.... ETC... DRINKIN 21. SMOKING 18. VOTING 18. PISTOL PURCHASE 21. RIFLE/SHOTGUN 18. Speed limit nationwide 55. Article 4 section 2.... no one thats had surgery complained about the cocaine in fact they prolly begged for it... same with opium in pain pills.... seems is gov can make and sell anything they want... but not legal for us to do. Constitute states it controls gov and courts... but if the courts over turn the constitution we are not honoring the constitution... Jefferson didnt say change this as you like.

    January 19, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  5. meki60

    None of it is worse than ObamaCare

    January 19, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. Sal

    But don't you think we have enough problems with alcohol without adding another problem? 

    January 19, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  7. Try Thinking For Yourself For A Change!!!

    Got to love all the people who equate the legalization of Marijuana to the legalization of ALL drugs.
    How can you tell people that cigarettes & alcohol are OK, but smoking Marijuana is not?
    People drink & drive & kill innocent people every day in this country, yet alcohol is legal.
    Cigarettes kills thousands yearly and they are legal too; it even hurts nonsmokers, like infants trapped in cars with smokers, ect.
    Prohibition clearly did NOT work, so why not tax Marijuana like everything else?
    At least Marijuana has some positive medical benefits, unlike cigarettes.
    If people actually did some research into out history as to why marijuana was made illegal to begin with, maybe they could see how stupid it is to keep it illegal....

    January 19, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  8. Name

    Legalize it all. If you choose to put a substance in your body that is your choice. Regardless of your upbringing, it is known that drugs are unhealthy when taken in excess of small doses. If you get hooked that is nobodies fault but yours. If you rob a store to get a fix, you should be punished for thievery, not consuming a substance. People are going to do drugs regardless. Making then really available with negative connotations attached to them is not going to convince a non drug user to pick up a crack pipe.

    January 19, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  9. ramon219

    Wait... what? Are you kidding me Obama? First you state that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and then you say it should remain illegal. That makes no sense whatsoever. He equated weed to smoking cigarettes, but won't support legalizing? He should have just kept his mouth shut on the matter.

    January 19, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  10. FubarObama

    so thats whats wrong with this guy..he has no brain cells left

    January 19, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  11. tjc360

    I give it a year, falling like domino's.

    January 19, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  12. SpeakTruth

    Finally the government admits some truth to this matter, and it took the god damn President of the United States to do it. Thank you President Obama, you made me a believer again as an independent voter. This is common knowledge and throwing billions of dollars away for literally no reason finally made sense to someone.

    January 19, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  13. SpeakTruth

    Finally the government admits some truth to this matter, and it took the President of the United States to do it. Thank you President Obama, you made me a believer again as an independent voter. This is common knowledge and throwing billions of dollars away for literally no reason finally made sense to someone.

    January 19, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  14. Ron

    The words from the President is refreshing and a departure from the past Presidents who used drugs, and yes alcohol is a drug. Now I have a problem with the President and Congress not allowing adults the ability to use marijuana. They are elected and should respect the wishes of the majority. These people have lost the meaning of freedom and Democracy a long time ago.

    January 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  15. Mike

    This President is a lunatic!

    January 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  16. Paul Cardosi

    Finally, a hint of common sense in the White House. I think I will mark the calender because this may be the only time in my lifetime to witness it.

    January 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  17. StormySyndrome

    Getting a little amused by folks still calling Marijuana a drug. While it classifies as a drug the same way anything we take into our bodies does....including food... one could overdose on chocolate before overdosing on Marijuana. One could drink themselves into oblivion before overdosing on marijuana. One would need to smoke around 15000 pounds of marijuana within 15 minutes in order to just have a chance at overdosing. Yes it impairs the mind the same as alcohol. Yes it requires ingesting something into your lungs. No, it wont kill you unless you're doing something dangerous at the time.....just like alcohol. If anything....we've made the wrong things illegal in this world and legalized some of the most dangerous things. Don;t let the man behind the curtain fool you....it has nothing to do with public safety, but everything to do with capitalism, greed, power, and money.

    Marijuana is one of the few natural resources that almost every country in the world has an equal chance of harvesting,. This plant can be used for food, clothing, paper, medications, and a plethora of many many other things. Is it any wonder, in the name of capitalism, we'd scare the world into believing this miracle plant is bad for them???

    January 19, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  18. david

    You cant compare marijuana to cocaine or meth. Are you loco? The affects are totally different on such a scale its like night and day. Just a weak excuse to try and argue and against marijuana

    January 19, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  19. AsokAsus

    Well, that's reassuring.

    January 19, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  20. ss

    no more dangerous? try not even as close to being as dangerous as alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  21. Devere

    “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,”

    This conservative Republican is in complete agreement with Obama on this point.

    There is however persuasive evidence that pot smoking among adolescents is a significant risk factor for schizophrenia. Decriminalization should be accompanied by public health education to alert our youth to the danger.

    January 19, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  22. TTommy

    Just another breakdown in our society advanced by the liberal left. If it feels good, do it. Wanna get stoned? Great. Wanna go through life stoned? No problem. It doesn't even surprise me anymore what comes out of this charlatan and snake oil salesman's mouth. Worst president in the history of our country and there is no close second place. He makes Jimmy Carter look good.

    January 19, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  23. Lynn

    These people who say might as well legalize all drugs make no sense to me . Marijuana is a natural remedy , I wouldn't use pain killers unless I had no choice . Far and away more dangerous than marijuana .

    January 19, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  24. Jack Gordon

    As someone who has practiced family medicine for 19 years, I have lost count of the number of people hurt and damaged by the use of alcohol and cigarettes. I have seen cases of liver damage, lung damage, and too many car accidents due to over excess of cigarettes and alcohol. How many cases have I seen of bodily harm or death due to marijuana? Zero. What is even more dangerous for Americans today is staggering cases of obesity and the use of painkillers. Americans who regularly take prescribed and not prescribed painkillers, you know who you are, for recreation and pain cause enormous damage to their health and well-being. Marijuana has been proven to help those afflicted with PTSD, cancer, and in numerous other cases. Everything in excess is damaging to the body, whether it is caloric intake and lack of exercise, alcohol, painkillers, and cigarettes. Weed is no more dangerous and less so in a lot of cases than many of those substances Americans regularly put into their bodies. Would I recommend marijuana use to children, absolutely not. It goes the same with alcohol, recreational painkillers, or cigarettes. For adults, however, if I had to choose between them regularly or excessively drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking painkillers, or over-consuming high calorie foods to regularly or over-consuming marijuana, I honestly would have them smoke marijuana. However, I would never say that to my patients. Instead, I just tell them to try to smoke less, drink less, don't use painkillers unless prescribed, and skip the dessert.

    January 19, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  25. Botherations

    @Greg

    Congratulations! You've used the 'slippery slope' fallacy! You said that if we allow A to happen, then Z will eventually happen too, and therefore A should not happen. The problem with this reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead shifts attention to extreme hypotheticals. Because no proof is presented to show that such extreme hypotheticals will indeed occur, this is one of many logical fallacies that relies on leveraging fear. In effect, the argument at hand is unfairly tainted by unsubstantiated conjecture.

    January 19, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44