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. Name usaf

    It would cut down on locking up some non- violent people, and take money from the violent cartels. I could care less if people smoke dope but every smoker (all kinds of cigs) should be required to buy extra lung cancer insurance or never recieve taxpayer cancer care assistance. Their rights to smoke end at my wallet.

    January 19, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  2. Heather

    Agreed, Larry. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression, PTSD, OCD, Anxiety (with panic attacks) and insomnia, along with some physical medical conditions and cannabis helps more, is more cost effective, and more tolerable than all the meds they wanted to put me on.

    January 19, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. R

    Who cares. If someone is going to abuse something they will abuse something. In the arctic they have a problem with kids sniffing solvents and fuels. They cant grow Cannabis there.

    There is a difference between knowing the road and walking it.. If you have never tried it then you are not in a position to understand its real affects and should not comment. I think some people should stay away from it but that's about being a good non authoritarian parent and education.

    January 19, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  4. Kate Johnson

    Actually there was a study by Britain's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, classifies alcohol and the most dangerous mind altering substance on earth. Even if you added heroin, crack and meth all together, it still doesn't equal the horrific damage done by alcohol. Harms to the user included things such as drug-specific or drug-related death, damage to health, drug dependence and loss of relationships, while harms to others included crime, environmental damage, family conflict, international damage, economic cost, and damage to community cohesion. So cannabis in a order of magnitude less dangerous than alcohol, and it's whole lot better, in terms of it's consequence to society than alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  5. Tumek

    Finally he said something I agree with.

    January 19, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  6. Dewey

    It's not the same weed he smoked when he was young, it is far more dangerous.

    January 19, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  7. Chrissy

    I agree with the president.Alcohol has probably killed more people than weed. Then there's cigarettes, which has also killed scores of people. I would be more supportive of laws to make alcohol and cigarettes illegal.

    January 19, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. Oski

    Finally, something from Obama that I agree with.

    January 19, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. Richxx

    And alcohol is safe? Reminds me of my mom saying "if your friend jumps off a cliff would you?" How many have died from DUI? How many families have been ruined? Pot will only enhance this trend because so many will abuse.

    January 19, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. DRAKE MALLARD

    Why is the most useful plant known to man, a plant that has never killed anyone, illegal? It's illegal because corporations that buy politicians fear competition from superior, safer, and more environmentally friendly hemp products. And because the government loves to oppress, jail, and steal from the people! Alcohol, tobacco, petroleum, cotton, timber, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies, to name just a few, see marijuana as unwanted competition.

    January 19, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Dewey

    I hope the THC level of each blend is marked just like the % content of alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. beaverbob

    Finally an issue I agree with Obama on.

    January 19, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. Bud

    He is exactly right. A bottle of whiskey can do just as much damage as a bag of weed. Maybe more. Legalize it, tax it, restrict it to hash houses. End of story.

    January 19, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  14. Put Down The Bong

    Have you ever talked to a person who is a longtime pot user ? They are burned out ! Do we really want more wasteoids further polluting the gene pool ? It's a race to the bottom !

    January 19, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  15. swatguy

    The issue is about personal integrity. The law said dope was illegal to possess and use, but it's ok to break the law because "everyone is doing it". Where does this stop? We have become a nation of many who have no moral fiber to do what is right. It's so much easier not to...and to all you dopers, I have yet to hear why another mind alerting drug is going to be good for our society and our country. Don't bother trying to explain, you can't.

    January 19, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. Cindy

    Mr. President, Do you believe there is medical value? because that wasn't mentioned. You did it yourself and know it's not harmful like those other drugs. Be like our first president Washington, and bring the hemp industry back to help save the planet and save the lives of Millions of people. It is a cure for cancer why isn't that talked about.

    January 19, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Obama says marijuana ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’. What a great incompetent statement for a head of state. That's all we need is one more substance to mess with people's lives and minds. His statement also makes it clear why he is such a poor leader.

    January 19, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. BO

    No surprise here. A quote from Obama's book, Dreams From My Father, ”Drink, pot, and a little blow when we could afford it”.

    January 19, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  19. Gary

    So if "weed is no worse than alcohol", then we can expect many more "acceptable" deaths because it will be normal.

    January 19, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  20. Name

    I can't find anything harmful with pot. Besides laws don't stop people from getting it. Seeing as alcohol is responsible for millions of deaths a year and marajauna is responsible for zero. It's pretty easy to determine pot is relatively harmless in comparison.

    January 19, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  21. Jonathon Powelly

    Q. Why do most people smoke pot?
    A. To escape from reality.

    January 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Cindy

    What about the medical value? lets talk about how it cures cancer. I'm sure you know that it's not harmful like those other drugs. America is backwards, we should be using the hemp to make everything instead of using up all the tree's, it could save the planet.

    January 19, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  23. Greg

    Unlike alcohol, marijuana helps impulse control. It stabilizes my mood much more effectively than the mood stabilizers and antidepressants ive tried. It isn't just helpful with those with mental health issues. It helps everybody. Everybody makes decisions they regret because they acted impulsively. the problem is that drugs not just marijuana are glorified by the media and kids don't realize there's a difference between ecstasy and weed. If you deal marijuana, you face worse jail time than violent offenders. When this drug is probably the least violent thing.

    January 19, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  24. Kenman

    We don't need any character or moral lessons from this jerk firstly! And secondly, you're not a "kid" when you're smoking the stuff in college and/or grad school, and I doubt it stopped then!

    His "story" is so "inspirational" (and suspect), why doesn't he let us know how he qualified and afforded those elite schools he attendedd (?) and what kind of grades did he ACTUALLY make when he was smoking this and likely other harmless drugs!

    January 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  25. me

    "no more dangerous than alcohol".....

    meaning its just as dangerous really.

    January 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
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