January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
7 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. Wellywellup

    It's kind of hard to argue smoking pot will ruin your life now when the last three presidents admitted to doing it. "Son, smoking pot will ruin your life, or you might become president, or something. Never mind, just get me another beer."

    January 19, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  2. Troy

    isn't adderal "finely tuned meth"?

    January 19, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  3. Andy

    Just think tens of thousands of pot heads leaving work getting into their cars and smoking on the commute home, How many will the kill

    January 19, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  4. Atul C

    Because he says, it must be true :-)

    January 19, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  5. Freedom Fighter

    - Law enforcement, set to loose about 50% of all drug arrests to plain common sense.
    – Big pharma hates cannabis because it frequently works better than the products they sell and they cannot find a sure fire way to capitalize on cannabis.

    US CDC Figures directly from the CDC dot gov web site on numbers of deaths per year in the USA :
    Prescription Drugs: 237,485
    Tobacco: 81,323
    Alcohol: 39,199
    Marijuana 0, none, not a single death in all medical history
    Cited direct from CDC dot gov. Stop the lies and Legalize!

    January 19, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  6. J.E. Hoover

    “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?”

    We already are OK with that. Meth is a prescription drug in the USA – used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and obesity – and has been for some time. Obama and the federal government is perpetuating Americans' ignorance of the real truth about drugs, as it has been since the early twentieth century.

    Cocaine is also a prescription drug in the USA, widely used in Dentistry. So I put the question back to you, Mr. Obama: If Cannabis, an illegal Schedule I controlled substance is 'no more dangerous than alcohol' as you say, then does this mean that legal prescription Schedule II controlled substances, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, are also less dangerous than vodka?

    January 19, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  7. mike bauer

    can't he just order it off the most-dangerous-drugs list? i voted for him, and i'd vote for him again, but there's always this time-lag between what he says and when the reform actually comes down. now, politics is what it is, and i don't know how hard it is to keep his party unified and all of us voting democrat, but still. it'd be nice if he gave non-lifer democrats a reason for voting for him too...

    January 19, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  8. Carol Franceyrcfrancey@gamil.com

    Actually, Mr. Obama, cannabis is healthy. Your kids will find out you lied.

    January 19, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  9. Scott

    Something I can get behind.

    January 19, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  10. Breaking Good

    Finally a voice of reason and knowledge! I love our current president and the Catholic Pope ...it's a great time to be alive! in a time of remarkable men.

    January 19, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  11. James

    Lets smoke the weed out of America fellows. President is Ok.

    January 19, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  12. looknclick

    he was community organizer, constitutional lawyer, just a lawyer, now he is a doctor.

    January 19, 2014 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  13. looknclick

    - But Obama said....
    – You still go to jail, pothead!

    January 19, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  14. looknclick

    When everyone's high, we can better spy!

    January 19, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  15. Sharky

    Gotta keep those prisons filled with new customers every day.

    January 19, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  16. Jodo

    obama says "“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"

    What is a LONG time? How long should cannabis users be locked up for barack? A month? A year? Ten years?

    Nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose – unlike alcohol.
    Nobody has ever become addicted to cannabis – unlike alcohol.
    But the pharma / alcohol / tobacco lobby doesn't make $$ on cannabis

    A POTUS with courage would end this insane prohibition. Unfortunately we don't have one.

    January 19, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  17. Steve

    While 'being no worse than alcohol' may seem like an endorsement, to those that have experienced the ravages of alcoholism recognize it as a condemnation.

    January 19, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. Grumpy Kat

    What else could we expect from the Pot Head President?

    January 19, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. Woody

    The reality is pot will never go away . Telling us pot will go away some day is like saying you will never have to spray your yard again for weeds ! I planted a small tree one time and it died ! only to find it found a better spotted it liked and moved . Even my grandfather, and my father said pot was at their school and I am in my 60's and it was even at my school ! Maybe the money we use to stop pot could be better used in educating kids and keeping kids safe at school by stopping school school shootings !

    January 19, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. bryon

    As a republican, I agree here that pot is no worse than liquor. It is a waste of money to try to get rid of it. Also, it will dramatically weaken the cartels down south.

    January 19, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  21. bob

    (From Ireland),
    It was so sad to see that the USA was coming the middle east with the DEA and their very silly laws, it was guns and violence,

    I don't smoke weed and to be honest I hate it, but this is good. Really happy for the folks in the USA,
    this will have a lot of good in it.

    and remember guys, really drugs became illegal in the first place for a stupid reason (racism)

    January 19, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  22. Ben

    Booze eats your brain and your body, literally. If you stop consuming it you'll have wet brain for a bit, sometimes permanent damage. You'll lose a lot of your cognitive functions, have a fuzzy head and sometimes tremors. If you weren't a hardcore boozer (daily or almost daily) but more a binge drinker (getting drunk once a week) you are also more prone to acquire wet brain syndrome because of the constant detox and then binge again. Your vitamins are depleted and your brain becomes fried. Sounds fun huh? It's not. I was a binge drinker for many years (work hard play hard philosophy) and finally gave it up cold turkey 2 years ago. I had to have intravenous Thiamine vitamins because the brain fog, visual disturbances, cognitive impairment, dizziness, nausea, sweats, insomnia , etc....Most don't stop drinking to realize they have destroyed their health so they continue and those that do stop usually start again because they can't handle Post alcohol withdrawal symptoms (which are the symptoms I've described after the initial 3-10 days of detox). Booze will get you and you don't have to be a hardcore drinker either. Never heard of pot withdrawals like this, have you?

    January 19, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  23. George Kaplan

    About time.

    Economic freedoms go hand in hand with personal freedoms.

    January 19, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  24. marty

    If you were a passenger of a car, which driver would you avoid? The guy who drank a beer, smoked a cigarette, or smoked a joint?

    January 19, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  25. rosethornne

    I don't like pot, I think it smells nasty.

    ... and that is NO reason for spending trillions of dollars and ruining millions of lives over some dried leaves.

    January 19, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
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