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. Letones

    I am NOT a fan of Obama and disagree with 90% of what he's done in the White House.

    TODAY I agree with him. Criminalizing marijuana always ways a mistake, and people (like Clark Vaughan above in the comments) that make baseless, scientifically inaccurate claims about how legalizing pot will turn us all in to lazy losers is pure garbage. Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, and yet their society hasn't slid in to the Atlantic yet... In fact, they're one of the most productive nations in Europe.

    Ask yourself, when was the last time someone smoked pot and then beat their wife? Doesn't happen, because pot doesn't have that effect on you. Alcohol on the other hand? Oh yeah, lots of examples of violent drunks out there. Pot is also PROVEN (that science stuff again) to no be addictive. Cigarettes are... Alcohol is...

    And the bottom line is this... It is NOT the place of the government to tell you what substances you can put in your body. Your body is not the property of the US government. All of you people that want to use the law to impose your version of morality on everyone else need to **** off. If you don't want to smoke pot; don't. But its none of your business what I do to MY body so long as I'm not infringing on your rights when I do it. So, if I smoke pot, that should be legal. If I smoke pot and get behind the wheel (thereby threatening your safety) that should be illegal. See the difference there????

    January 19, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  2. Name

    Andy, just think of how many people already do. Making pot legal isnt going to suddenly start making people commit vehicular manslaughter.

    January 19, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  3. Elise Burke

    I don't see what the big deal is. I used to smoke regularly, and I'd love to do it again, but I've got a family. If I could do it legally, WONDERFUL

    January 19, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  4. Mike Diana

    Correct again Mr Pres.

    January 19, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  5. barrack obama

    It is wonderful that the President is on board with legalization of marijuana. However, states should follow the guidelines that Colorado has in place to regulate legal sales of marijuana. I don't smoke marijuana but do have problems with it being illegal as it is a major waste of taxpayers money on police and other enforcement agencies. It can be a major source of tax revenue and help reduce the number of people in prison if it were legal.

    January 19, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  6. skibum

    To tet1953: Alcohol is a natural substance. And btw, so is hemlock and other poisons. Natural does not make a thing right or wrong.
    To Frank Garcia: Gateway drug? Have you done the research about that? If you had you would realize that it an idiotic statement. It was done by asking prisoners who were locked up due to "hard" drug usage had they tried pot. Had they asked them "have you used milk?" they would have had an equally high number. To be scientifically valid, the question should be how many pot smokers go on to hard drugs. THAT number is amazingly small. And as for Obama, he was wrong about gay marriage (as are you). and it would appear that making idiots available for votes applies more to republicans. No one should vote against their own interests. That would make the majority of voters NOT vote republican since they aren't rich. Which is what the R's cater to. Look at the case of the water poisoning in WV, look to the attempts to block health care in the red states.

    January 19, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  7. dj

    the federal government says crack cocaine is safer and has more medical value than cannabis. thats messed up. of course pot is safer than alcohol. any cop in the world could've told you that. the safest "drug" bust they could ever have is some poor dude with a sack of weed in his pocket. why we are putting hard working tax paying americans into the prison system with rapists and murderers is SICK!!! peoples lives are ruined forever and they are getting sentences of up to 10 years for getting busted with as little as a gram of cannabis.. thats disgusting. its about time we get rid of these archaic laws that were all based on lies. its a shame there are still hundreds of thousand of people who still think 'reefer madness' was a documentary.. shame shame

    January 19, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  8. Wade

    This might be the only time i have ever agreed with Obama! LOL...

    January 19, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  9. Josh

    The White House serves alcohol. How long now until it offers guests and dignitaries a joint?

    January 19, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    This president is the worst thing to ever happen to the culture of the USA.

    January 19, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  11. Nameann

    The president is right on. Alcohol should be made illegal

    January 19, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  12. Rick

    If we take away the stereotypes weed users won't much different than the average Joe having a couple of beers on Friday night. Oh yea, we can't talk about it. Take a good look at all of the marketing for beer, now apply it to weed. The Miller high life really is the high life without the hangover. We have to stop punishing people for casual weed use. This doesn't mean we should smoke 20 joints a day but perhaps a couple of pinchers to take the edge off isn't so bad.

    January 19, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  13. albie

    It wasnt enough to have teens texting while they drive - now they will be high and texting and driving ... how awesome

    January 19, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  14. H

    Schedule one is absurd, even those opposed to legalization can see cannabis isn't equivalent to Heroin Methamphetamine and Cocaine PCP...END schedule one, it's a lie.

    January 19, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  15. Tha Dude

    The same guy who was busy arresting all the Cali medical people, says "oh, my bad, it 's cool now." ???????????

    January 19, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  16. mokondis

    Should we ignore the latest medical report because Obama now has a Medical Degree to go with his Economics Degree. The report clearly states that Weed has a significant impact on the brain, reducing IQ by 8 points or more.
    This is probably why big ears is saying what he is. His IQ has gone from moron to sub moron from smoking Weed.

    January 19, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  17. john

    He knows because he smokes it.

    January 19, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  18. Brenda

    When I quit my face cleared up and I started to excel at my job.

    January 19, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  19. Hello?

    while you are futzing around with this, this country has a real meth and heroin problem.

    January 19, 2014 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  20. Jay Kassa

    Marijuana is somewhere between cigarettes and coffee as far as danger.

    January 19, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  21. Name

    Un belivable

    January 19, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  22. Cynthia Avishegnath

    I read Mexican cartels are planning reverse pot smuggling between Mexico and US. Grow here, smuggle into Mexico, to be exported to the world.

    January 19, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  23. my10cents

    You can't equate cocaine and meth to marijuana. Marijuana is a natural product that is just basically grown and dried it is also still a wild plant in some areas of the continent. The cocaine that is sold on the street is so far removed from the coca plant as to be unrecognizable and meth can't be made without creating hazardous toxic waste. Just these differences mean that regardless of any form of legalization provided to marijuana you could never justify the same rules to cocaine and meth.

    January 19, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  24. onenation

    Tell us something new

    January 19, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  25. John

    As a police officer, I've arrested many for possession of marijuana, but I've never smoked it.

    January 19, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
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