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. MrBigStuff

    Hopefully, the President's attitude towards marijuana will eventually lead to a greater acceptance and understanding of other drugs such as cocaine (in a controlled fashion) for recreational use.

    January 19, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  2. Jacob

    Yet he's perfectly happy to continue prosecuting people for using a substance that he views as no more harmful as alcohol? Classic political double-speak. Put your actions where your words are, Barack.

    January 19, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  3. True Marijuana conesouer

    genisis 1 ; 11 AND GOD PUT ON THE EARTH the grasses and the seed yeilding herbs AND HE SAW THAT THEY WERE GOOD

    January 19, 2014 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  4. Alan Powell

    If Obama smoked pot, maybe it's more dangerous than we thought:(. That would explain a whole lot of things.

    January 19, 2014 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  5. Jim

    Well, we know Obama has long been a fan of Marijuana

    January 19, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  6. Big_D

    I want us to start producing all the other goods that come out of commercial hemp. With our ag production we shouldn't need any imported oil. we should be producing clothes and rag paper too. Far too long has the prejudice and corporate colonialism ruled the USA. TIme to grow a new future.

    January 19, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  7. Obamaisapothead

    Spoken like a pot head, Obama...and we let this druggie run the country...no wonder everything is going to crap....

    January 19, 2014 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  8. Tom in Desoto, TX

    I'm going back to Vietnam. They had great weed in 1970, they couldn't make beer worth drinking.

    January 19, 2014 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  9. Big_D

    Chemical and petroleum companies fear what we can do with pot. The public just needed propaganda and bigotry to get on board.

    January 19, 2014 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  10. Robert Dutrow

    We have a finely calibrated dose of meth, prescription Desoxyn. Legal to give to kids with ADHD in all 50 states!

    January 19, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  11. wth

    1. Legalize, commercialize, and tax all drug sales.
    2. Regulate the hell out of it.
    3. Enact stringent laws against public use and driving while intoxicated.
    4. Start up drug education programs in public schools to teach safe and responsible use.
    5. Make public rehab programs world available and easily accessible.

    You will never, ever stop drug use, so let's be reasonable and smart about it instead of locking people up and destroying their future for acts that harm no one but themselves.

    January 19, 2014 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  12. theburbs

    He should know. He was once a pothead. Just might still be.

    January 19, 2014 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  13. Flgeeman

    Finally.... Can't blame this one on Bush..... George was a Cocaine Addict..... !!!!!

    finally..... can't blame Bush on this one....He was a Cocaine Addict !!!!!

    January 19, 2014 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  14. beanie

    I don't care what anyone else does in the comforts of their own homes... I've drank, smoked weed, snorted coke, smoked crack & tried vicadin & oxy's (pill form & snorting). Drinking is way worse than weed & all that other crap is way worse than alcohol. I'm not an addict. What makes me mad is that I could be an alocholic w/10 dui's & keep my job... But if I choose to smoke a joint over the weekend & then something goes awry on monday & I get called 2 take a drug test, I could lose my job. What I do on MY time is my business. Period. Decriminalize & legalize... So ppl like me, who use for recreational purposes, don't lose a 15+ yr job because of a technicality. Since it is such an issue, i've been smoking "spice". Something that is apparently legal 2 sell in a store, but yet illegal 2 be on ur person... I am currently on a 2 yr probation for it, like it was weed. Darned police kept sayin I smelled of weed.. I told them that's not possible. When they searched me for weapons, they pulled it outta my pocket. Since when has anything in paper been a weapon? I just thought they were pattin me down, looking for guns, knives, etc. I would not have consented 2 a search, since I was not being arrested, if I thought the paper in my pockets would get me in trouble. None of the police's business whats in my pockets (other than something that could pose them harm)... Oh wait... They musta been scared of a paper cut! Decriminalize, legalize & tax it. Then america could say "what gazillion dollar debt?"

    January 19, 2014 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  15. Jose79845

    So the $1.5 trillion spent mostly fighting marijuana was still a good investment?

    January 19, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  16. Chappie96376

    everyone's into pot until they look around and see who else is representing. oops, that ain't MY tribe!

    January 19, 2014 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  17. JC

    Dr. Obama said marijuana is not that harmful to our health, now he can give it free with the welfare checks.

    January 19, 2014 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  18. Uthor

    I'd much rather be on a road with people who are baked, versus people who are drunk. I'd much rather have a conversation at a party with someone who's stoned, rather than with someone who is loaded on alcohol. You can drink yourself into a stupor and act like an animal, but you can't do that with weed. Alcohol is a million times worse than marijuana as a drug of choice.

    January 19, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  19. Rick_BOS

    Just when I think I've heard it all from OVomit he makes a statement like this. What a poor excuse for a president.

    January 19, 2014 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  20. Internet Princess

    If Obama say poop smell bad, yall bigots will challegne that.

    January 19, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  21. sickand tired

    I love the fact our leader can say this and never break into laughter. Followed by him sayin " ha ha ha , just kidding
    ". He has the power to reschedule cannabis from schedule 1 – ( no medical value) to a schedule 2 narcotic. Leaving the prescription in the hands of real professionals, not in the hands of corrupted politicians.

    January 19, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  22. gahh

    Finally Obama says something believable.

    January 19, 2014 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  23. ryanwin

    Alcohol kills more innocent people than firearms in the US. If we are going to define how bad things are by their effects on society, then alcohol should be outlawed before firearms are even considered. Any substance that impairs judgment will lead to irreparable mistakes that ruin lives.

    January 19, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  24. Danielle

    The U.S. needs to decriminalize both marijuana and prostitution. These minor infractions clog up our courts and jails.

    January 19, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  25. Douglas

    So what the President is saying is that it is OK to be drunk while smoking marijuana. Thank you for your opinion. I will remind him of that if someone is drunk and high and runs into his daughter or wife. The classic politician-opinion changes based on whatever the popular opinion of the week is. The President with no principles, thoughts are always evolving. Grow a spine Mr. President. Take a stand and actually mean it.
    First gay marriage, then marijuana, what would he legalize next despite coming out firmly against?

    January 19, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
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