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. JimJamMeguuu

    He didn't say it's less dangerous as well. Wise choice of words from Obama. He can take a side without advocating its use.

    January 19, 2014 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  2. Mari

    Weed is no worse than Alcohol, hmmm, that statement can actually make everyone agree. lol..clever

    January 19, 2014 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  3. Neal

    And to think this guy was against legalization when he was running for office.

    January 19, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  4. dzerres

    I love how some of these baggers on here call Obama all kinds of negative drug terms but conveniently forget their hero, GW Bush fell down drunk and cracked his head open while "choking on a pretzel". GW is an documented alcoholic.

    January 19, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  5. Cat

    Weed is not a bad drug....least to me. I don't smoke or drink but I would rather smoke than drink. The effects of weed aren't anywhere near as severe as alcohol. Plus if it was legalized...we would be debt free in no time. Make it so only certified people can sell the plant. Bring in more money charging for classes on safe doses and the potency of several strains and stuff.

    January 19, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  6. keb

    Obama is entitled to his opinion, he can view it as negative , the reality is that alcohol is one hundred times more dangerous .

    January 19, 2014 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  7. Bob Jones

    What else is an ungodly president going to say in a country going to pot.

    January 19, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  8. simone

    This is from our pot-head president Barry Obama. Why is anyone surprised?

    January 19, 2014 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  9. Galactus

    President Obama is wrong. We need our Federal drug laws enforced. Every American should expect President Obama to enforce ALL of our Federal drug laws. President Obama should be impeached if he is not going to enforce our Federal drug laws in the United States.

    January 19, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  10. mistvall

    "Marijuana is no more dangerous in alcohol, but I won't tell the DEA not to throw you in jail forever for it"

    January 19, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  11. Commoncents

    Well then what is the hold up with changing the draconian laws of this country? Regardless of what the fear mongers will say marijuana is proven to be a beneficial natural medicine. I grow tired of people telling me what I can do with my body. I also grow tired of the "think of the children" argument. What ever happened to being a parent and keeping your children from things that are meant for adults. Change the laws now!

    January 19, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  12. Charlie

    i never voted for this guy..and do not have much respect for him...HOWEVER, with his comments..maybe i will change my mind :)

    January 19, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  13. Jeff from Columbus

    Well, I think from the multiple reports of his heavy use of marijuana in his college days, he's certainly an expert on the subject of marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  14. PhilG.

    I wish The President had not said that.

    The facts are that while pot isn't as evil as a lot of law officials seem to believe, pot does have some really long lasting effects on the brains of regular users.

    Pot use long term can effect the ability of users to concentrate and remember complex tasks.

    The odd thing here is that the amount of disability varies greatly depending on the brain / body chemistry of each individual user.

    There is no all knowing statement that can be said to include all pot smoking people.

    Many pot smoking people function just fine smoking pot everyday.

    But as large a group of people should simply not smoke pot on a regular basis because the mind numbing effect lasts for them much longer and to a much worse degree.

    Also, pot smoking cannot be allowed in public or in rooms frequented by the public who don't smoke because there is a real risk of a contact high to the risk of giving those exposed a positive test on work drug tests even though they don't smoke.

    I welcome decriminalizing pot.

    But there are definite ways pot must be used by the public and some people simply should not smoke it.

    Ironically,just like the use of alchohol.

    January 19, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  15. chris

    1920 Prohibition of alcohol. 2014 Prohibition of drugs. Read history compare. Yes legalise cocain or you go down.

    January 19, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  16. Name edward haynes

    here we have an admitted heavy pot smoker as president of usa. He broke the law and now pres? Mow he says no worse than achohol. BALONEY. I have personal first hand exp of pot smolkers who were friends and fam members. All off the walll from uyrs of pot. As beer drinker never met one person who drank when sobered up wasnt back to normal self next day. Drunk yes off the wall.

    January 19, 2014 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  17. Darrell

    He must be high.

    January 19, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  18. mickinmd

    I think most of us who went through a marijuana and alcohol phase in college see alcohol being at least as big a problem as marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  19. All sins

    I love it!!! All sins will eventually be legalized in America.

    January 19, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  20. Hawkeye07

    Obama is no worse than a bucket of democrats

    January 19, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    None Andy It is not like drinking alcohol

    January 19, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  22. W.M. Steinberg

    He almost did it there. Almost. Nice try Mr. President. Next time skip the Gateway Drug Law spiel.

    January 19, 2014 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  23. Gary

    you know, if the Drug Cartels started lobbying Congress the way the cigarette companies, and big oil do, we'd have legalized weed in no time. Lets face it: we live in a country where our government picks and regulates the poisons and intoxicants we are allowed to consume. Case in Point, alcohol–> Now i like a beer about as much as the next guy, helps unwind after a long day,boosts confidence, loosens inhibitions, makes the chicks a tad bit prettier...but its also responsible for how many road traffic accidents resulting in fatality and injury? Hepatitis, Cirrhosis, Substance abuse related issues. But yet at every sporting event, cold beer flows freely. They slap a restrictive age on it, they tax it, and they require licenses to sell it. Jeez beer is more regulated than fire-arms. how funny is that? so why not marijuana? Imagine partnering up with the Cartels, getting a properly regulated supply and demand, taxation, licensing fee's. The war on drugs is a failed on. Time to accept the fact that marijuana is here to stay, and adopt it into the culture, start redirecting our resources elsewhere.

    January 19, 2014 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  24. memphispiano

    I believe we have spent far too much money fighting pot. However, I am concerned by the president's comments. To young people, most of what he said will be construed as "it's OK to smoke pot". Even his admonition to his daughters is lame. He seemed to be minimalizing cigarettes, pot and alcohol. These three things are destroying more lives than we can imagine and he has just undermined the colossal efforts of our government and healthcare to warn young people of these dangers.

    January 19, 2014 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  25. Proud_I Fought_it

    I'm a conservative, and I think Obama is awful for this Country, but he is correct that marijuana and alcohol are the same. This country spent Billions retraining its citizens that Hemp of any kind was harmful when it was not. Hemp could
    do so many good things in the US, much more than medical or recreational. Many many years of lies from the Gov about this.

    January 19, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
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