January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
9 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. willy

    Probably the only thing Obama has had real hard training in, pot use.

    January 19, 2014 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  2. knowa

    The DEA is finding it hard to continue the fraud and it high time to do a complete audit and criminal investigation into collusion and corruption of Government official as to why they have Lied and Institutional Block legitimate scientific research and facts to maintain the status quo. While they have wasted Trillion of Dollars arrested over 23 million people for unconstitutional laws. We need to filed a class action suet against DOJ/DEA for reparation for the millions that have been damaged by these Conspirator agencies and officials there should be no statute of limitation for these crimes against the people.

    January 19, 2014 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  3. Stahp

    Obama is correct, however he's doing this to try and win back fringe voters in the youth as a preparation for the midterms.

    Just like his statement about his declining approval being at least partly due to racism- which is a crock of bull.

    January 19, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  4. JAMES C LANGELLE

    The President makes this bold statement the same week the Surgeon General's office comes out with a new report that smoking is more dangerous than previously thought.

    January 19, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  5. don

    If you want to score a major win for the Democrats, legalize marijuana. Actually, Hilary would be smart to include in her campaign that she would legalize pot as well as same sex marriage. Although those are hardly the biggest issues we face as a society, they are hot button issues and would draw out big voting numbers. I lean more towards Republican ideas , I'm just speaking in terms of political strategy.

    January 19, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  6. matt

    the government has a patent on CBDs. They know pot is all in all a good thing. moderation is the key. but it works better than any prescription drug.

    January 19, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  7. Name

    Weed is grown naturally. All that other mess is man made.

    January 19, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  8. joanne lynch

    I think his comments are ill informed. There is a documented connection between marijuana use and increased risk of psycho affective disorder, especially for pot users in their adolescence… marijuana alters the chemicals in your brain… not acknowledging this connection is missing a critical piece of relevant information..

    January 19, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  9. Suresh Chari

    WRONG, President Obama, with all due respect. Wait for the traffic accidents and other accidents to start rising, then we'll talk. Are there standardized 'DUI' tests for marijuana? No. Then how will we even determine if it played a factor in accidents? This is a self-destructive slippery-slope that, for the most part, misguided 20-somethings are bringing upon the society as a whole. We do not need the President's "endorsement" for this.

    January 19, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  10. gts58

    OMG – somebody tell Obama to keep his mouth shut!

    January 19, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  11. Vivian

    There are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death.

    There is no data to suggest that cannabis use directly causes death, despite millions of regular users nationwide.

    Hopefully, this new declaration signals a coming policy change.

    January 19, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  12. Bubba

    Someday; Pot will be legal everywhere and embraced by all. On the same day; Republican hate speech will remain legal, but be shunned by all. This day; is the day of LIBERATION.

    January 19, 2014 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  13. gts58

    This should be a surprise to no one – as Obama was a "doper" ever since High School and then through college admitting he loved pot and did blow (cocaine). Of course he is going to say it no worse than alcohol because he is a long time user! To think this man is our POTUS is enough to make you sick!

    January 19, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  14. Deac

    What do you expect coming from a guy who's probably still snorting coke?

    January 19, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  15. Runtime Al

    Obama had to take tiny little baby steps on his attitude towards gay marriage, and now we're watching him take his tiny little baby steps towards marijuana. I'm a big liberal, but I must say there hasn't been a whole lot of that audacity Obama was talking about prior to his election. I'm a bit tired of the slow motion. 2016 anybody?

    January 19, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  16. mike

    So is the moron in chief going to drop all mandatory drug tests for government workers then? Pretty soon we will have a bunch of doped up government workers running the place.

    January 19, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  17. Vivian

    MT says: "Ain't" it great knowing the man with his finger on the nuke button was/is a doper? LOL"

    Hey, did you say the same thing when Bush, Clinton, and Carter were president?

    January 19, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  18. Guest

    Obama has deep seated psychological problems.

    January 19, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  19. Golfnpsych

    Obama, by his own account and those of others, was not a casual pot smoker but a heavy user for a good number of years. How does he know how it affected his mind? He cannot use his mind to determine if significant mental changes occurred to his mind. Suppose marijuana use resulted in a distorted sense of what is "fair" or, even worse, made him believe that he was the arbiter of what is fair? Would he know it? Suppose his marijuana use resulted in his failure to assume responsibility for his actions? Would he know it? Suppose his marijuana use resulted in his believing in grand health care schemes that were not grounded in reality? Would he know it? Suppose it made him forget that he was told things about gun running, or IRS investigations, or what happened in Benghazi. Would he know it? And what of all those who voted for him? Do you believe there were more pot smokers among Obama voters than, say, Romney voters? Is that proof of the dangerousness of marijuana in compromising judgment or does it mean that people who are high are better able to exercise good judgment? Just asking!

    January 19, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  20. akmac61

    The negative physical and behavioral effects of alcohol consumption are well known. There does not appear to be factual evidence of anything similar with cannabis use. The outlawing of marijuana was a political move by the U.S.
    Prohibition of alcohol merely made bootlegging very profitable, the "war on drugs" has done the same for pot. It makes a great deal of sense to legalize and tax pot. The proceeds can be used to fund the severely underfunded treatment efforts for alcohol and drug abuse. Treatment rather than imprisonment makes sense to everyone except the highly profitable private prison industry.

    January 19, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  21. Kit

    The spelling and grammar errors in the comments of weed supporters says everything you need to know about habitual users.

    January 19, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  22. McBob79

    It's too bad that CNN wouldn't report the other part of the New Yorker story. Mr. Obama claims his low approval rating is a result of his race... not his inept policies. The guy is completely out of touch.

    January 19, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  23. philz

    MT says "Ain't" it great knowing the man with his finger on the nuke button was/is a doper? LOL

    That was the dumbest comment ever. What does that mean? It means you don't know jack about what your talking about.

    January 19, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  24. Name

    Barry is pretty cool.

    January 19, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  25. Dan

    I could live without it but it's not up to the government to decide what is good for me or not.

    January 19, 2014 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
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