January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
8 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. Jesse Black

    Everything Obama had stated in this interview makes a lot of sense. It is about time a President has stepped forward and said what a good portion of Americans think about marijuana. If marijuana users have to follow all the laws a common alcohol consumer has to, so be it, in all honesty it makes sense. I would like to see marijuana changed from a schedule 1 controlled substance to something way less serious, before Obama leaves office! I just hope people realize the reason he came out and said this is not because he use to smoke, but because scientific research has proved it is par with alcohol. They both have their pro's and con's, granted, but the legalization and regulation of legal marijuana will help bring America out of this terrible debt we currently are dealing with. God Bless America!

    January 19, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  2. Dean

    Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing the high and other effects that users experience. These include distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory. Research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana's adverse impact on learning and memory persists after the acute effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may persist for many years. Research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impact on the structure and function of their brains.

    A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed a profound deficit in connections between brain areas responsible for learning and memory. And a large prospective study (following individuals across time) showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38; importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults.
    Marijuana use can have a variety of adverse, short- and long-term effects, especially on cardiopulmonary and mental health.

    Marijuana raises heart rate by 20-100 percent shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. This may be due to increased heart rate as well as the effects of marijuana on heart rhythms, causing palpitations and arrhythmias. This risk may be greater in older individuals or in those with cardiac vulnerabilities.

    I guess Obama knows about as much about medical things as he knows about being president...........Not much.

    January 19, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  3. RobertM

    If marijuana should be kept illegal because 'its bad for you' then why don't we criminalize other drugs that are bad for you?

    Alcohol, tobacco, sugar and caffeine are all drugs also sugar and caffeine stimulate the brain similar to cocaine and can cause a variety of health issues.

    It only makes sense right?

    January 19, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. Ilpalazzo

    You know, if there's one thing he can do with an executive order is to take it off the Scheduled substance list.

    January 19, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. Byron

    Marijuana shouldn't be a controlled substance in the first place. If every substance was on that list life would be really difficult.

    January 19, 2014 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  6. Jim Yielding

    Marijuana should be legal. Moderation is the key. Too much of anything from facebook to fastfood is unhealthy and you don't need a doctor to tell you that – it's common sense – and that's what Americans are lacking. Follow the money. I think every state would benefit from it. Not just from recreational smoking but the 100+ other things you can create with it – like JOBS. I say act now before we start sending those jobs overseas as well.

    January 19, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. discouragedinMI

    He should know. He used enough of it.

    January 19, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  8. dnha14

    He wants the populace stoned out of their minds so they will believe anything he says as they become easier to control. Power, Power, Power. That's what it is all about for Obama. Power OVER the people, not Power To the people.

    January 19, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. Bob

    And Obama is a medical expert. That's right he us a user.

    January 19, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  10. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    I have never seen a woman beaten by her husband or a deadly car wreck due to pot. Alcohol is another story altogether!

    January 19, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  11. The truth

    Actually Bob Obama is friends with Dr. Sanja Gupta who was offered the Attorney General position but declined. Unless you have been under a rock for the last year Dr. Sanja Gupta did a large scale study/ documentary proving cannabis has medicinal properties AND is much less dangerous than alcohol. Other than that I ask one question why do you people who don't want cannabis legalized think people should just take prescription drugs instead of handle things there own way. It's not your life to decide, don't you know it's prescription drugs that are ruining this country? If you don't again I ask have you been under a rock for the last 10 years? Let people live there life, take marijuana off the schedule 1 drug list and lets get America out of a deficit! WAKE UP !!

    January 19, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  12. RS

    America has two choices, continued prohibition or legalization.

    With prohibition, we still get extensive drug use, but we also transfer billions of dollars per year to criminals and gangs, corrupting governments and nations. We fill prisions, jails, courts and tie up the police. We permanently destroy the lives of people convicted of using drugs, why? Because jail and a record is the only way to save them.

    With legalization, we still get extensive drug use, but we create new industries, new jobs and pay taxes while defunding gangs. We free up police to work on real crime. We save money in courts, prisons. We allow young adults to grow up and become responsible WITHOUT a criminal record.

    The preferred choice, a drug-free society, is not on the table. It's a fantasy. So forget it.

    Two choices America. Why is there even a debate?

    January 19, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  13. Corinne

    Please just stop placing marijuana in the same category as all the other street drugs. Overdoses in method, heroin, cocaine. Overdoses on marijuana, zero. Still. Please reconsider your position. Legal in all states! Regulated through a dispensary. Thank you.

    January 19, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  14. rudy

    nice job EarthWorm,
    when is the last time you have seen kids getting 'doped up' on pot and beating someone up? -thats right, never. you clearly have no idea what your talking about. as compared to alcohol (which is completely legal and part of your conventional understanding of a 'safe' drug that you might personally take part in from time to time or have, when is the last time you have seen or heard of kids getting doped up on alcohol and beating someone up, mowing people down in a car, body falling apart from liver failure, burdening the taxpayers with hospital time along with the other accepted tax payer drain tobacco?
    i have smoked pot in the past. hate it now after 25 years and think its a false high and waist of brain cells along with ambition and productivity of both self and society. but to keep it illegal and a felony is completely absurd and rings with hypocrisy in this puritanical climate this country or certain individuals like to keep it in because they are conservatives who like things the way 'they are' as long as its good for them.

    January 19, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  15. Aaron Wolf

    It's too bad he didn't have the guts to say this when he was running for office, before WA and CO legalized it. He really knows how to lead from behind.

    January 19, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  16. OhBrother

    Only an idiot would compare MJ to any other drug. I don't even use the stuff but I have been around long enough to know that no one has ever died of an MJ overdose, ever! Name one other illegal drug that you can say that about? How can anyone with a brain argue that if MJ is legal that all drugs should be legal. Apparently there are millions of people out there that have no idea how many people are addicted, obtaining and dying from prescription drugs every day.

    January 19, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. Robert

    We do have a finely calibrated dose of meth that won't kill you or rot your teeth – it's called Starbucks

    January 19, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  18. John

    I smoked a LOT of marijuana for 10 years while doing a pretty good job as an analyst in a white collar industry. Then I went to pick up my daughter in day care, and my 3 year old jumped up to greet me with 'my daddy smokes a bong! My daddy smokes a bong!" So her daddy went home and bagged all his goodies and gave them away to someone who needed them more. That was 28-29 years ago.
    In the end it just made me silly, made me think stupid movies were works of genius, that kind of thing It never stopped my daily 3 mile runs, it never made me want to try anything else. Now all I have is alcohol, so I miss marijuana, but wasting time by being plain silly just has no appeal.
    It should be legal, so people can figure that out for themselves, or not. I do know someone who would be in constant pain without it, and to deny them that out of ignorance is, well, ignorant.

    January 19, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  19. lagunalad

    4 more years!

    January 19, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. Zippy

    Well, not surprising given that the dude was toking through all of the years he was supposedly in college.

    January 19, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. Salem

    Yet prescription drugs and alcohol are two of the most deadly subtances? Look at the numbers if your against legalizing pot. Maybe you're the one in denial.

    January 19, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Scott

    Alcohol destroys far more lives than weed. The fact that you can be arrested for having some weed but can transport cases of vodka, whiskey, etc. in your car is preposterous.

    January 19, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. john smith

    Some of the comments on this are so ignorant its unbelievable, clearly pot will destroy America, thats why Amsterdam is in ruins.

    January 19, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  24. Polar Bear

    I true leader would have said "it's just as bad as." But, being a former pothead, he's now in a position to rationalize his wasted days.

    January 19, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  25. David

    The "finely calibrated dose of meth" is Ritalin and Aderrall which millions of children use by prescription.

    January 19, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
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