January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
10 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. James Bond

    @David "The "finely calibrated dose of meth" is Ritalin and Aderrall which millions of children use by prescription." no those are amphetamine salts, methamphetamine is a different chemical altogether. @ john smith "Some of the comments on this are so ignorant its unbelievable, clearly pot will destroy America, thats why Amsterdam is in ruins." this is sarcasm, I take it?

    January 19, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  2. Jonas Quintela

    US will fall like Rome did.

    January 19, 2014 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  3. tet1953

    One major difference between cannabis and everything else mentioned in this article is that it is a natural substance. Everything else is a man made concoction. Cannabis is cut and dried, that's it.

    January 19, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    "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?”.................Duh excuse me but there are calculated doses of speed that are mass produced like (ADDERALL). They will get you spun out too. Not as intense as speed but many a tweeker used it to get by on until their dealer came back to town. Coke is refined to precise metered doses too. Still neither one is good to get spun out on due to the physical harm to the body. weed however is what helps with pain of M.S. ! Much better than the drug (Gabapentin) which is very harsh on the body and maybe as bad as M.S. itself. I just have to wait and see which one of them wins in the race to get me to the disease or the cure. Like the commercials on T.V. where the pill gives you more problems than being sick but that's no good either.

    January 19, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. dd

    Americas accounts for 5 percent of the population, use 80 percent of all pharmas manufactured. Look at the real issue, eartworm. MJ is not a synthetic such as coke or meth, not addicting although it may be habit forming. Go ahead and enjoy having govt. control you to the point where , as long as one is pumping money into big pharma, alcohol, big tobacco... we're better off. 160 thousand people die every year from adverse reactions due to pharmas., taken properly and not abused. None have died from pot, but when a cancer patient, depressed person or one in chronic pain go to a doc that's what they get instead of a natural and safe alternative. The fight against MJ has always been about money. It goes very deep.

    January 19, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  6. Frank Garcia

    outrageous! but this is the kind of president we have. He was rightfully against gay "marriage"...then he changed with the new direction of the liberal wind. Now he opens another dangerous path... a gateway drug, a drug that makes more idiots available for democrat votes.

    January 19, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. More Cowbell

    Wrong! It's LESS dangerous. Stop fibbing Mr. Prez.

    January 19, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Sounded contradicting

    January 19, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  9. joey

    I don't know if I should be happy the president finally said something that makes sense, or sad that the most powerful man on earth took this long to figure out what almost every other person already knew. This isn't rocket science.

    January 19, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. Lorraine

    "The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” Yeah, tell that to anyone walking or driving in Calabasas Shopping Centers as you can smell the pot in the parking lots and as they are driving down the street. No wonder Calabasas, CA BANNED outdoor smoking long time ago – they knew they had a pot-population invading the air-space of the neighbors. So when it is hot outside and you want to open your windows you cannot BECAUSE the stench of pot permeates the air. So, Mr. President tell me is it an agenda to drug a generation just as your predecessors handed out the entitlements................ALL FOR VOTES.

    January 19, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. Mike in SS

    Great then, Mr. POTUS, go ahead and make it legal in all 50 states by the power of your royal decree and Executive Edict! Rule by decree, Mr. POTUS

    January 19, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  12. BIrdog

    Unfortunately, like alcohol and cigarettes, there are those that are allergic to pot, but two of these don't get nearly the attention that cigarettes and peanuts do and peanut allergy is MUCH RARER than herbal allergies. More people are allergic to certain herbs that animals, but never one story or any word is ever said about herb allergies.
    I am allergic to pot. People should be tested for the allergy before taking. These allergy tests should be free if it if becomes legal. Most people get cheap tests for other allergies.

    January 19, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  13. allenwoll

    Above all, CORPORATIONS must be absolutely barred from the promotion, the manufacture, the distribution and the sale of cannabis ! ! ! . Look at what they did in respect to tobacco and do in the instance of alcohol ! !

    January 19, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. chachamama

    Obama goes
    whichever way
    wind blows.

    January 19, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  15. Daniel

    Alcohol is poison.

    January 19, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  16. MWeaver

    He's smokin it – the comment about lawmakers 'doing it' wasn't a slip of the tounge. Whast is it about Dem presiden
    t's and smoking??

    January 19, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  17. BIrdog

    Oh yeah, and what happens if someone is caught potted while driving? Get less than drunk drivers? I can tell you, from having done it (one time) that there is NO way you are driving properly while high on it. In addition, it makes you snack incredibly. I have asked a number of other former user of different drugs and found it is the only one that gives you the munches, could this lead to additional numbers in obesity?
    Sure explains why the regular users I used to know were pretty obese...

    January 19, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  18. Constantine16621990

    I hate Idaho, we'll never legalize weed!!!!

    January 19, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  19. Dave Hawkins

    Genius!! Which one kills more people every year?? Alcohol is much more of a threat. But it does explain his chronic whoppers.

    January 19, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  20. Jaggersden

    I wonder if he inhaled? Was it first hand smoke or second that he is judging?

    January 19, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  21. mikeosity

    Alcohol is a very dangerous drug.

    January 19, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  22. vivian@hempfest.org

    The current policy of spending billions of dollars to lock up otherwise law abiding Americans who use, buy, grow, sell pot are ridiculous, outdated, scientifically unsound, and have backfired, because pot is in every city and town in America in abundance.

    All of the fear based rhetoric in this comments section is the last gasps of failed public policy. Marijuana has never killed a single person from overdose or toxic reaction, which is why the prohibitionists must try and connect it to dangerous drugs by the silly "gateway theory", that they never prescribed to alcohol and tobacco, the real gateway drugs.

    We are winning. times are changing. Get ready for a sea change in public policy. You cannot stop it. We are a steamroller. We are so tired of being treated like criminals by people who drink alcohol and smoke tobacco, both which are killers of millions worldwide. We are done being robbed from by our government, having our children given to strangers, being put in jails and prisons will real dangerous criminals, some of them pond scum.

    This is still America, what is left of her. That has to mean something. This is supposed to be the land of the free, not the land of corporate profits, prisons, and fake reality TV shows.

    January 19, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  23. Timothy

    So when the president makes a bad decision next time, is he going to say i'm sorry. I was smoking weed ?

    January 19, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  24. twalk

    Weed is no worse than guns. It is the person using it and abusing it not the weed.

    January 19, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  25. Name C . cheney

    I don't have a problem with the legalization of marijuana. However comparing it to say meth or shrooms is a dumb stance. High fructose corn syrup is bad for you too but is it illegal? A shift on the current policy on pot needs to change, If big pharmaceutical company's were not in the pockets of politicians, marijuana would be legal.

    January 19, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
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