January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
11 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. myway

    That's the same wisdom floating around in the 60s and 70s. The question is not the choice of drugs, it's the level of moderation. What must change is the paranoia that even moderate use of weed should be prosecuted. This view came to life during the early 20th century when forces like the Hearst press and others descended on weed as if it came straight out of hell's kitchen. Weed was blamed for the "rape" of innocent white women by men of color. Supposedly weed made these men act like possessed by the devil leading to the deflowering of the women in question. More likely these women were caught having affairs outside of their race and had to resort to accusing their lovers to preserve their reputation, causing the lynching of some males in places like Texas. This history is largely forgotten but was a major factor in causing the present day prohibition of weed and negative public opinions surrounding the unfortunate hemp plant.

    January 19, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  2. booze is FAR worse

    anyone that thinks pot is any worse that booze is delusional...booze is ten times more destructive

    January 19, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  3. mikeinsjc

    I agree with little this man has ever said or done, but here he's right. If you were to ban substances based solely on the dollar cost to society, booze and cigarettes would be illegal, and pot and X would be legal.

    January 19, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  4. james

    if they have regulated doeses of all drugs, make them all legal..

    January 19, 2014 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  5. J Green

    thank you, mister president...please re-schedule

    January 19, 2014 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  6. sickand tired

    What/who are we Russia, china. What gives anyone the right to tell us we cannot use the safest substance know to man kind. The fact that the NSA monitores our every move, should be attacked with the same viciousness this failed drug has been attacking marijuana. The president is only making mention of this because Americans have removed the blinders, and are currently in the process of steam rolling this failed drug was by way of voting to legalize. The president does not want to be seen in the light his predecessors before him will be. A blatant disregard of facts, science, and the choice of theaamerican people.

    Obama has the power to end this non sense. Reclassify to a schedule 2 narcotic. ( if its safer than alcohol and tobacco, its definitely safer that all other schedule 1 narcotics that marijuana's currently lumped in with,such as: herion, cocaine, meth,!!!! This will take the heat off him internationaly, and here on the home front. He will be the president to end the Tierney on black and Hispanic Americans, save 15 billion dollars in enforcement, and collect additional 15-45 billion annualy in tax revenues. creat 200,00+ jobs in the industry, And have the ability to focus real issues this country has like ending other wars we have no reason to be in, securing our boarders.

    January 19, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  7. qqq

    Until the early 60s there were actually ads saying cigarettes were good for you. Even doctors recommended it. Consumption exploded. After the famous national report on the hazards of tobacco, consumption decreased, but the harm was done. If you want to eradicate tobacco today you won't be able to. I guess people want to walk the same path first with joints, then cocaine and heroine.

    January 19, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  8. Jim Weix

    Perhaps it is time for Obama to grant a blanket pardon for anyone convicted of an offense involving pot. We have a nation of adults hiding convictions on job applications, because of something they did when they were 18. The anti-pot laws were always stupid.

    January 19, 2014 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  9. Treavor pence

    What,s going to happen if malika or sasha gets run over by a guy on pot behind the wheel?

    January 19, 2014 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  10. patw2100

    Over 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving wrecks in 2012. Only a liberal could think that is not dangerous.

    January 19, 2014 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  11. Rory Murray

    End this "Drug War". Set the non-violent P.O.W.s FREE.
    The PEOPLE have spoken loud and clear.

    January 19, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  12. sickand tired

    Action speak louder than word's Mr president, lack of action speaks even louder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 19, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  13. HereNGone4

    Cigarettes were declared a killer years ago and I was forced to smoke somewhere private. If cigarettes kill your lungs, what will pot do to your lungs when you suck it in and hold it till you have to breath again. Stupid ass laws. Where are the nonsmokers now???

    January 19, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  14. Roger

    If the Federal Government would legalize pot and laws that apply to it, our country's deficit would whittle down pretty fast just from the tax!

    January 19, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  15. Namezag

    obama is an idiot

    January 19, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  16. glaird

    "Obama says marijuana 'no more dangerous than alcohol'". Well that is a real comfort. 32367 people were killed on US highways in 2011, and all time record low. Of those, maybe 40% (I'm being charitable, because the stats use to be 50%, 20 years ago) of those deaths involved alcohol. That means, ~13K people were killed because someone involved in the accident had been drinking.
    So Mr. typical US level of Math, who wastes untold $Trillions in taxpayer money, figures that ~13K (no worse than alcohol, right?) people are expendable, just so his primary constituents can get high.
    And we wonder why America has forfeited its world leadership role.

    January 19, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  17. Maani

    The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol 'in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.'

    Talk about euphemistic language! Let's look at the facts:

    -Pot has never been the "cause of death" in any case, in all of recorded history, unless the pot was tainted with something else. Alcohol is responsible for more than 300,000 deaths annually – in the U.S. ALONE – including liver diseases and drunk driving deaths.

    -Pot is not physically addictive, and is psychologically addictive in only a small percentage of cases. Alcohol is physically (though not chemically) addictive, and is psychologically addictive in a FAR greater percentage of cases.

    -Alcohol has no medically proven benefits. Marijuana has been proven to (i) ease the pressure from glaucoma, (ii) ease the nausea from chemo and radiation therapy, (iii) increase appet.ite in AIDS and HIV+ persons who take medications that create a decrease in appet.ite, and (iv) can help lower blood pressure (sometimes after a short initial spike).

    Thus, marijuana's "impact on the individual consumer" (LOL) is negligible next to the ravages of alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  18. lol

    Obama's getting big money from big pharma lobbyists to try and keep it illegal. Our teleprompter reader in chief is totally clueless.

    January 19, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  19. Cary Grant

    I had no idea the Idiot in Chief was an expert on narcotics.

    January 19, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  20. chuck wagon

    God says not to be drunk or under the influence of drugs –

    Man says the opposite ....

    January 19, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  21. Scott

    First sensible thing out of his mouth in a very long time.

    January 19, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  22. Ruth

    He said he smoked pot when he was young....I have seen the pictures of Barry Sotero smoking a lot of mary jane ,no wonder he is this way ....where did he get his medical degree on the outcome of smoking this crap? First he is against something then he is for it....can not stand someone that flip flops on their convictions ....wishy washy and too much of a feminest type.....no macho man there

    January 19, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  23. historyspeaks10

    @ MT

    considering the last 3 POTUS have admitted to using marijuana and/or cocaine, theres been 2 decades of having a "doper" with their finger on the nuke. so how does that make you feel? do you feel better having the drunk air force guy that lost his job from being a lush in russia at the helm of it all?

    personally i'd rather have someone whose smoked a joint at the wheel rather than someone who just downed a bottle of whiskey or other alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  24. Dannyboy

    What a Maroon..I can't wait until his 15 mins are up!!!!

    January 19, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    "“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.

    If the hypocrisy President Obama speaks to was really considered, there would be a few, if any lawmakers left to write, bunch of forked-tongued, lying, greedy self-serving hypocrites they are. Did I say Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, and more

    January 19, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
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