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. Clark Vaughan

    People smoke pot to get high. Period. A person can have a alcoholic drink without their actions, decision-making, morals, and ability to contribute to society being affected. Allowing the proliferation of pot encourages a culture of doing less, accomplishing less, and taking more, which coincidentally, is a theme that shows up in other Obama policies. Those who don't get high will have to do more and those that do get high will milk it even more.

    January 19, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  2. geladius

    Marijuana medically is safer than alcohol to be correct.

    January 19, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  3. DN

    This country has become a bunch of drunks and druggies – – – great society to live in (Sarcasm inserted).

    January 19, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. lee1

    Jan 20,2016 can't come quick enough for this lame president go get off the center stage. His media following only show where this country is going. Welcome to another downfall for society.

    January 19, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  5. ms.oh

    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..... Obama being in a position to strike down the federal ban will sit there and do nothing. Business as usual in the Obama camp.

    January 19, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  6. Oliver

    Yeah, I'm 100% ok with that.

    January 19, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  7. lee-engle@hotmail.com

    I consider pot way less dangerous then alcohol. With pot you don't wake up still drunk or hung over. Nobody gets high and crashes their car either. Pot is less addictive then cigarettes to. Lots of health risks with cigarettes. The numbers of people that have died from alcohol and cigarettes speak for themselves. Zero people have died from smoking pot.

    January 19, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  8. Joe M.

    Can you have the equivalent of 1 drink of weed? I don't think so. What an asinine comment by the President.

    January 19, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  9. Laddester L. Conyers

    I agree with the President on the harsh sentences for smoking pot , but what happens when a person is tempted to want to get higher on something else? Do you want to legalize all the other drugs just to make more money? this country is in big trouble. America wake up! Greed will consume us all.

    January 19, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  10. Name SC Roselyn

    Who cares about pot what about unemployment benefits.

    January 19, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  11. claygooding

    Vegas,,if my post is the "mantra" of every "stoner",,please feel free to point out any misinformation in the post,,if Congress had followed the recommendations of the Schaffer commission when Nixon threw the the science in the trash and declared war on the hippies we wouldn't have the largest prison population in the world,,IF,,such a big word.

    January 19, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  12. Nah

    This is a typical Obama/political answer. Make a stand Mr. Obama and stick to it. Stop leaving yourself room for a flip-flop which is all too common from you. Do you support legalization of marijuana or not.

    January 19, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  13. ReillyGuy

    Thank you for finally admitting what most Americans already know. This is another big step to get the FDA to finally declassify marijuana. Americans have the right to use this plant, and hopefully millions of Americans will no longer have to depend on costly, addictive opiates to get pain relief.

    January 19, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  14. DickPerry

    Anyone claiming alcohol make you violent need to consider these facts. There are billions of people using alcohol. Only a few get violent.

    January 19, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  15. Steve Johnson

    What the heck? Obama said something I agree with, how is this possible

    January 19, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  16. s0merand0mguy

    Vegas Smitty – You obviously never grew up based on those non-sense comments. I used to drink when I was younger but then I grew up, See how that makes no sense? Yeah.... Marijuana has MANY medical values and helps treat up to 136+ diseases. Educate yourself before you come on a forum and type before you think. Did you know Marijuana acts as a low grade chemo therapy for women with breast cancer? Did you know when a women smokes marijuana she has a 30% less chance of breast cancer? See dumb people like you need to be eradicated. I smoke regularly and grow aaaaannnnnnnd make 90k a year at my real job. You are no better then marijuana smokers Smitty get over yourself

    January 19, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. Steve Wilkinson

    I've never had to endure 2nd-hand alcohol though (well, unless you're in very crowded mass-transit, I guess).

    January 19, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. Steve S

    I think cannabis will cause individuals to become satanists, who then willfully gain the mentality of a Nazi because that's what happens to potheads due to their utopian desire to remain stoned. In fact, this will happen, for a FACT. The government is going to fully regulate cannabis production eventually such that a "finely calibrated dose" of methamphetamine can be added to products. Cannabis is a gateway drug, to Nazism, to the future.

    January 19, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  19. Dmitry

    If "slippery slope" is the only argument against federally legalizing weed, then there is no really an argument.

    If we legalize weed, people will want to legalize other drugs, that's not a valid argument here. If that is the only argument you have, legalize it.

    Did not know that Obama smoked weed as a kid. Let's talk about seeing something like White House Honey Porter, in weed relating to the weed Obama smoked as a kid.

    January 19, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  20. Deej

    Coming within 24 hours, right wing websites and blogs sharing this headline: "Obama Wants To Force Us To Smoke Pot!" You wait and see.

    January 19, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  21. Dmitry

    more people have medical marijuana prescription then have signed up for Obama care

    January 19, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  22. joey

    Probably the most intelligent thing he has ever said.

    January 19, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  23. ChicagoDan

    It's rare that I agree with the President on policy issues, but he's right on the mark here. I don't smoke pot, but it is ridiculous to jail someone over usage – waste of law enforcement, etc. Alcohol is FAR more dangerous to society (domestic violence, health, drunk driving, etc. yet we accept). It would be great if the President took the lead here and worked to decriminalize MJ so the Feds could focus on "real" drugs.

    January 19, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  24. daveyoung

    Obama is no more dangerous than communism and national surrender

    January 19, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  25. disgusted

    Considering the number of alcohol related deaths every year and the number of families ruined by alcoholism in this country, to say pot is no worse isn't saying much !!!!

    January 19, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
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