January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
6 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. fumes

    too funny! the ignorant still repeat what they're told to repeat despite whole states having zero problems. stuff's great for kids suffering from Dravet Syndrome and Lymphocytic Leukemia. THANK YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!

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

    " are we O.K. with that?"

    That is the problem with Government. It's NOT supposed to be about what they THINK is OK.

    January 19, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  3. Syd Chaden

    Would being high on weed eliminate the horrors of Obamacare, or revitalize a stagnant job market?
    No, but the people who were high on weed wouldn't care. would they? (Those whose insurance has been cancelled, and unemployed people, please note)

    Would being high on weed improve the lot of the poor and the impoverished? No, but if they could afford the weed, they wouldn't care, would they? (Welfare advocates, please note)

    Would being high on weed help America defeat terrorism? No, but Americans would be happy, and it is better to be a happy infidel than an unhappy one, isn't it? (U.S. Seals, please note)

    Actually, doesn't alcohol sometimes make people violent and angry, whereas being high on weed makes them content, and feeling good? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! (Perhaps alcohol should be banned)

    Smoking weed is wonderful! So is Obama!

    January 19, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. Free the weed! Free folks to make a choice!

    So sad to see so many pot negatively about pot and not even bother to look at the newest research in the regards to a plant that can heal the body. Pot isn't booze or even close, matter of fact if any care to google and see government research tells us is that pot smokers know the effect and overcompensate for it unlike boozers who just don't care.

    January 19, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  5. Ron

    Lawyers are not qualified to hand out medical or moral advice. Now Doctors such as Dr. Sanjay Gupta have dispelled the lies from our government. Sorry Mr. President you and Congress are not qualified to give medical advice.

    January 19, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  6. natureboy

    Who was it that said the best things in life is free? In some opinions, whatever grows from mother earth is with out a doubt a gift to mankind from Her.

    January 19, 2014 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  7. Justice786

    Now, we will become a pothead nation while India and China surge ahead of us. If our students' scores in math and science were bad before, if our national productivity lagged before, if our annual GDP lagged far behind China, wait until everybody in our country is stoned out of their mind.

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

    Considering he has told so many lies and they keep getting bigger, even won the Lie Of The Year Award last year, why would anyone believe him it's no worse than alcohol?

    January 19, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  9. jeff

    I think the government wants us to smoke weed, so they can control us easier.

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

    Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. A drunk driver was speeding on a snow-covered road, lost control of his car, crossed three lanes, and crashed into me. Alcohol is very very dangerous. I hope that marijuana legalization will not cause the serious problems that legal alcohol has caused

    January 19, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  11. Klaark

    Spoken like someone who actually knows what he's talking about. Of course thousands of conservatives are now rushing to destroy their marijuana stashes because Obama said he once smoked it and doesn't see it as the scourge of the nation.

    January 19, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  12. Ed T

    For once I agree with this idi*t! But you need to assure driving and work laws coincide. Can't drink at work, can't smoke at work. Can't drink and drive, can't smoke and drive. Make these laws tougher and legalize it. You can then focus on fighting the hard drugs, like cocaine, heroine, etc. Hell once you legalize it and the thrill is gone and a third of the people won't bother anymore. Its going to happen folks so get these laws in place now.

    January 19, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  13. corwin

    How about the fact that it is less dangerous than alcohol?

    January 19, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  14. Justice786

    Pot takes away the will to do productive things, the will to compete, and is often the gateway to more potent drugs. Now, we will become a pothead nation while India and China surge ahead of us. If our students' scores in math and science were bad before, if our national productivity lagged before, if our annual GDP lagged far behind China, wait until everybody in our country is on pot.

    January 19, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  15. Selmers

    He would know.

    January 19, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. don in albuquerque

    But, but, but.....if we legalize all the drugs, Mexico will go broke.

    January 19, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  17. John

    Legalize all drugs. You have no right to control how others stimulate their receptors. When there's a legal limit to be driving on alcohol, your argument against protecting society from drugs is very moot.

    January 19, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  18. BD70

    Legalizing weed is not going to get more people to smoke it. The ones who do it now will continue. In regards to alcohol ....ever read of someone who was killed by someone who just toked? I mean....just a joint and nothing else. I haven't.

    January 19, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  19. Alex

    The problem with the slippery slope argument used at the end of the article is the means of production. Cocaine uses diesel fuel in it's production, and it's precursors can only be grown in South America. The production is largely controlled by cartels. Plus the health problems, and psychological issues that are associated with long term use are way worse than any side effects of marijuana use. The same goes for Meth. Even using small doses of either of those drugs, or other hard drugs has far worse effects on personal and social health than long term use of marijuana. Plus, we don't have to get marijuana from unreliable sources, or use chemicals and precursors in it's production.

    January 19, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  20. jimcolyer

    They are equally dangerous.

    January 19, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  21. Free the weed! Free folks to make a choice!

    End the War On Drugs and let the doctors deal with drugs rather than judges, cops, robbers, jails, and lawyers.

    January 19, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  22. B-13

    Marijuana might as well be legal now... when is the last time you saw someone get arrested for it? It should be legalized completely... it is a waste of tax-payer dollars to enforce against such a weak drug. Ny-Quil is stronger than marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  23. srcactus

    This is sad. What an opportunity, such a failure.

    January 19, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  24. laughingbuttskin

    The weather affects ones' decision making. Are they going to police the weather, too? *pausing gaze of Norm McDonald"

    January 19, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  25. OnTheRoad

    And we all know that no one, not one single person has ever been hurt by alcohol!!!! There has never been a family split apart, or a child die from being hit by a drunk driver or anything like that!!!!

    January 19, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
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