January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
9 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. sifto

    He would know..experience is best teacher..what about cocaine? may as well include that...

    January 19, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  2. LazyDog

    Obama is right – only weed affects people less than alcohol. I never used marihuana but many people told me hat marihuana never makes people violent while alcohol definitely does.

    January 19, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  3. katdude

    Someone should remind the president? that opinions are like rearends, Everyone has one, and they all stink.

    January 19, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  4. Right wing hypocrisy

    The right consistently complains about Obama, big government, and government intrusion. Yet, marijuana legalization is a form of de-regulation, and LESS government. Less need for police, prisons, and your tax dollars.

    Make up your mind. You can't complain about taxation, then advocate for government to police our private lives.

    January 19, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  5. Peter

    I don't think you can find many people who were brought up in the 1960s who didn't at least try pot any more than you can find people brought up in the prohibition 1920s who didn't take a drink.

    January 19, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  6. Jennifer NY

    He is not a doctor. Doctors just came out with warnings about the dangers of marijuana. Lung and brain damage. He needs to stop saying such things.

    January 19, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  7. @Bob

    Then please refer to the mountains of scientific research done, as well as most doctors who agree marijuana has fewer and less severe chronic health effects than alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  8. Starr

    Oh boy! I can hear the OUTRAGE from the republicans now! I bet they all smoked a little weed! But their stupid sheep will say whatever their Master's tell them.

    January 19, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  9. miamicitizen

    People that smoke weed for entertainment will do so no matter what. Tylenol(acetaminophen) causes more deaths because it is a poisonous in less amounts than previously thought and it's perfectly legal. There many people who suffer from depression, PTSD, Chronic pain, etc., for who cannabis would be better fit than harmful pain killers.

    January 19, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  10. Gregory Thomas

    If marijuana is not more dangerous than alcohol, here are some facts to consider:
    Almost half of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for drugs also had alcohol in their system.
    Every 53 minutes on average, someone is killed in a drunk driving crash (9,878 people in total in 2011). Every 90 seconds, someone is injured because of this entirely preventable crime.
    Local, State and Federal governments desperate to generate revenue because they can not balance a check book?
    What else are we going to say is not illegal??? There is a direct result for every action; there is more harm than good that will come from this.

    January 19, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  11. solomon

    Why doesn't the govt make the decision to stay out of what an individual does,or does not do,to one's individual body?
    We have far too many government regulations.
    Let us look to the 1800s and the early 1900s as a model for the proper amount of govt. intervention as to an individual's physical being
    ……which would be none.
    Let the government concern themselves with the three original federal offenses.

    January 19, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. lord Kubota

    Thanks. Make it legal and cheap too. No taxes on it.

    January 19, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. m123

    Then stop talking and do something real about it.
    Clinton should have legalized it, but he had too many personal issues.
    Please, stop talking to make people feel good and do something

    January 19, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  14. ShingoEX

    "But he also said the laws could raise questions for other illegal substances." We're referring to a drug that isn't lethal, unlike many others, including alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  15. Monica

    After having worked in drug enforcement I can tell you that cannabis is far less harmful than alcohol and I fully agree that is should be legalized and the tax revenues should be allotted toward educating our youth about the long and short term use and abuse of all drugs including ALCOHOL which is one of the worst by far. And as many people know as long as there is a demand for drugs there will always be a supply....Decriminalization is in order, far to many peoples lives have been ruined by being thrown in jail for small quantities of drugs...And it is time for our government to step back and use its resources for things such as education, health etc.

    January 19, 2014 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  16. The president has way too much time to kill

    doesn't he?

    January 19, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  17. Mike

    The military has to give random urinalysis samples monthly to determine if they are using illegal drugs, including marijuana. I would love to see someone point this out to Obama at his next news conference and ask him to submit a sample since he is the head of the military!!!!!

    January 19, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  18. pat

    Another stupid statement from our president

    January 19, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  19. daltongang1

    Gone are the years where our Presidents were only heard during crisis... Now every issue regardless how mundane we have a presidential opinion.... Yearning for the ole days.

    January 19, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  20. brad

    Hey Bob - If your doctor tells you that MJ is more harmful than alcohol then you should find a new doctor. Legalize it, personal responsibility wins, nanny-state loses.

    January 19, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  21. Name

    If it comes out of the earths ground its ok....stay away from powders and pills

    January 19, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  22. Alex Alan Alvarez

    There is no direct scientic correlation between someone who commits a criminal act and a recreational drug user.why is it that white middle american students are killing their peers because the got kicked off a debate team while the bigger fish to fry like capo rodrigo arechiga alias antrax gamboa are blending into the the milieu of society taking pictures with paris hilton in europe smuggling 500grams of methampetamines at a time. I dont smoke marijuana and dont intend to purchase any for recreational use. But its about agendas and topic is transparent black and white. Its the deterioration and dumbing down of society as a whole people consume alcohol because their is a correlational with pretty woman and sports. And people smoke marijuana because it is glamourized by celebrity anyhow its good to stay informed on all fronts

    January 19, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  23. Nancy

    What a sad state of affairs: “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."

    Didn't his parents teach him that two wrongs do not make a right? Obama is so often off-base / illogical on such a basic level.

    If you listen closely to the media and political pendants, they often refer to someone else's wrongdoing to justify a current situation/scan/fiasco.

    January 19, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  24. matt

    Finally I agree with Obama on something.

    January 19, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  25. Darkcide

    Im unofficially bipolar and I depend on it. I must say my concentration becomes sharp upon certain situations. It has its pros and cons but the cons are scary: increased anger and agitation, addictive, may become irresponsible, memory lost. Pros: it helps my digestive system it gives me even more energy less sleep sometimes more sleep, you dont age, improved sex with a utopia climax, improved focus and last but not least you gain weight eat eat eat eat

    January 19, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
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