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. karenascofield

    I call on my our government to stop the deception and criminalization of marijuana. We have the highest percentage of people in jail per capita in the world and that's disgusting (much of this has to do with marijuana-related arrests). It's even more shameful because marijuana was criinalized on the basis of corporate greed, lies, and more lies and those lies became a sort of dogma.

    've worked in nursing homes and worked in pathology as a tech. I've known people who smoked pot and have known alcoholics. I've watched the latter die agonizing deaths. I've seen their charts at autopsy. Unbelievable. Alcohol is by far the more dangerous drug. Long gone should be the era of classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug on a political basis. That doesn't mean anyone should take any mind altering drug and drug or operate machinery and vehicles. It does mean that in and of itself, it's less dangerous. It doesn't mean children without a medical need should smoke it but remember, drug dealers don't card kids but they will sell them harder drugs to get them hooked.

    I also want to see hemp legalized. You can't smoke it to get high and it offers fiber and food. Hemp seeds, hemp milk and hemp oil are very beneficial. I want to be able to buy hemp cord, paper, paint panels, clothing, bags and anything I want out of hemp that's grown and made in the U.S.A. Made in the USA! Right now we have to import hemp products. Hemp farmers and pot farmers don't want their stuff cross pollinating, by the way, It makes for nearly useless hemp and horrible pot. It's ridiculous that hemp was ever criminalized along with marijuana.

    Hemp grows much faster than trees and offers a lot more pulp and fiber for papers, fabrics, and so on. It's greener and it was considered beneficial to early America.

    I don't smoke, drink, or take illegal drugs but I would like a friend sick with brain cancer to be able to have medical marijuana and I would like the price of hemp milk to come down. It's nearly 4 dollars for a tiny container. I want to be able to go to art stores and get made in the USA art products. Come on, enough is enough. Lift the veils of dogmatic political lies and legalize it already. My government shouldn't be based on this type of predatory deception, treating the industry of marijuana-related arrests as a type of cash cow, as it's often called by city and county police and politicians. Ahhhhhhgh! The banksters are bad enough. We need to build our nation back up but not by tearing each other down.

    I think marijuana prohibition made us worse as people and as a nation in so many ways. It really did.

    So legalize it on the federal level already.

    January 19, 2014 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  2. O' is right on this

    I'm a conservative, on the right as many of my friends are, 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 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  3. Mac

    I am very hard core conservative and 99% of the I disagree with the POTUS but on this issue I agree. The reality is if marijuana was regulated like alcohol, it would do a lot for this Country.

    Jobs – sales representatives, distributors, accounting, drivers, the list goes on.

    Revenue – taxes

    Crime would decrease – 70% of Mexico's drug cartels money come from marijuana.

    Jails – would be less over crowded for petty crimes.

    LEO's could maximize their resources to combat a different issues, sex trade, gangs, and violent crimes.

    If done correctly it would be ok, but the sad part is, Uncle Sam would screw it up because BOTH PARTIES would use this issue for political purposes rather then the benefit of our Country.

    January 19, 2014 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  4. Jason Ransone

    President Obama is doing America no favor by diminishing the stigma about marijuana use, which is well documented as a gateway drug to other addictions and negative behavior. Because he and his advisors are obsessed with leveling society in every level be it wealth transfers from wealthier Americans to poorer unproductive ones, or free college for some entirely subsidized by others, or healthcare created for some who suck down sugared drinks, twinkles and let their kids become obese burdens on society because of their bad parenting.....this is the president determined to socially engineer a " fairer" (read subsidized) country for his constituents. It is a lousy idea and precedent for a sitting American president to parse by saying, " hey, I don't want my daughters smoking weed....but it's okay if others do because it's not as bad as cocktails served in those country clubs...." This is the president of the great Democratic left. Maybe we should ask Hillary how she feels about it too...let's get her on the record, too, on this....

    January 19, 2014 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  5. tarura

    Weed no more dangerous than booze? Is this an expert user opinion?

    Community organizer's opinion is certainly not the medical opinion.

    January 19, 2014 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  6. Raymond Ford

    I do appreciate the steps that President Obama is taking towards marijuana but, they just don't go far enough. Truth to tell, no one has the right to dictate to anyone what one puts into his mouth or what comes out of it. Why? Because America is a free country according to the Constitution. The present laws on marijuana prohibition were created based on corruption on a government level which is well documented. Innocent Americans have been arrested and incarcerated to support big business for decades and yet these issues have not even been mentioned by the government let alone recognized. I view the present government's position on marijuana prohibition as corrupt and Unconstitutional. To allow mainstream corporations to manufacture legal liquid taxable drugs more commonly known as alcohol and yet maintain marijuana prohibition costing the tax payers billions of dollars per year to keep the prison systems lubricated with fresh meat is immoral and Unconstitutional. Our present system creates criminal records which makes people harder to employ costing us even more money. The bottom line is, We The People control government not government controls people. If your in doubt of my last statement, please refer to the American Constitution where my last statement can be verified and at the same time, you can also verify that the Government's position on marijuana prohibition is Unconstitutional and illegal. We The People Have spoken. Any referendum on marijuana prohibition or the legalization of weed will verify that the vast majority of voters today, completely support and want marijuana legalized. We The People are tired of "Perpetual Debt" Other countries have taken a much more intelligent stand on drugs. For example, Portugal 11 years ago decriminalized all drugs for they realized that drug abuse is a health issue and not a criminal matter. Their results? Impressive to say the least. I believe that it is time for the government to wake up and smell the coffee. As far as I'm concerned, the government owes the people an apology for their corruption of decades. Our entire past history needs to be rewritten to reflect the truth today. I am a home owner and tax payer who fully respects the Constitution for the Constitution tells me what's real and what's not. There is a huge revolution coming and it's been coming for a long time. which is motivated by real freedom. We The People are waking up and I suggest the government do the same. "Quote" "Change starts from the bottom up" "President Barack Obama" Thank you for your audience.

    January 19, 2014 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  7. Hanrahan

    Pot helped build the ghe ttos of this country. If Obama continues to get his way the entire country will be one giant ghe tto. Obama and his ilk will then feel at home anywhere in the country.

    January 19, 2014 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  8. lauren

    Though I appreciate the president saying pot isn't as bad as alcohol however to still place it on the same table as mushrooms, ecstasy, coke and heroin insults me greatly. I'm no heroin junky, I don't go to raves and I don't drink. I have drank plenty times in the past and its nothing like pot. I can't walk, speak, drive, I get sick and throw up. I have experimented with other things just one time just so I could know what it was and pot is the only thing besides alcohol that I've done more than once. It's not the same. It's a plant that can b helpful with numerous things. President Obama, you tell your daughter's that its unhealthy to smoke pot but don't u smoke cigarettes? They kill people every second of every day yet they're legal for anyone over 18 to buy and are way harmful than pot is. I have epilepsy, scoloiosis and I have chronic pain constantly.. no pill your pharmacies will give me can do to me what.pot does to me and for me. How can pills b legal for pretty much anyone to get their hands on; that by the way is responsible for how many deaths along w cigarettes... It doesn't make any sense to me....if you're for the people and want such good things for us why is our water poisioned, our food isn't real and cigarettes, alcohol and pills are legal but Marijauna isn't?? Take it off the same table as heroin and all those other drugs please bcuz I am not like that and I never will b. I am a hard working citizen of this.country and its sad this is suppose to b the land of the free? Since when? I could go on and on but y waste my time when my words mean nothing to anyone?

    January 19, 2014 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  9. fedupwithla

    Why is Obama such a big expert on these things? How does he know?

    January 19, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  10. shon williams

    Finally a president with a lil bit of courage on the subject. Alcohol killed 2,300 people today. Pot killed zero.

    January 19, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  11. FX

    Obama's comment is very timely, just two weeks away from the first Weed Bowl.

    January 19, 2014 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  12. blakenaustin

    Obama is no worse than Stalin or Mao. So let's ignore his scandals.

    January 19, 2014 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  13. badtobone

    Did he say it is against the law? Then say he not going to enforce the law?
    So smoking pot feds want arrest you but if you don't get insurance you will be fined. Huh

    January 19, 2014 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  14. Lawrence Goldstein

    Sad, mixed message & he had smoked pot. What I don't understand is why did they use cocaine & meth? We are specifically speaking about marijuana. Cross method false which is a crappy analogy to keep it a schedule 1 drug.

    January 19, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  15. Gerald Reed

    Heck.... And it's nothing compared to a line of cocaine, right Mr. Prez?

    January 19, 2014 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  16. Amanofthenorth

    Free up cannabis and mushrooms and crack the hell down on all the rest. Serious crack downs. Add the death penalty to heroin dealing...that will stop the epidemic of heroin addicts that in their misery will rob you, get arrested, or turn to methadone. You see, methadone is a for profit pharma "cure" and so are the for profit methadone "clinics". Payed for by the US taxpayer.
    US is so close to seeing the light... but are law enforcement and the companies that give to politician reelection campaigns?

    January 19, 2014 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  17. Hanrahan

    Anyone stupid enough to smoke that stuff deserves what they get. Unfortunately, the rest of us will be supporting their habits through our taxes, in the form of welfare, healthcare and unemployment. The one thing for sure is pot doesn't make anyone more ambitious. As long as someone isn't receiving any sort of public assistance, I don't care what they do, but these new laws will absolutely lead to more people living on government charity.

    January 19, 2014 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  18. ArchieDeBunker

    "Obama: Weed no worse than alcohol." Speaking strictly from extensive experience, I assume . . . .. .

    January 19, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  19. gravinaut

    The only thing we have to fear, is the fear of pot.

    January 19, 2014 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  20. Mike

    Then he should legalize it. Bet he won`t though. This guy talks out of both sides of his mouth

    January 19, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  21. Bob Penn

    Legalizing marijuana is foolish. It adversely affects brain activity, memory, general health, and mental health. It is addictive, harmful to babies during pregnancy, and worsens other health problems. It lowers academic achievement, increases acceptance of delinquent behaviors, and harms relationships. Marijuana smoke contains 60% more carcinogens and four times the tar of regular cigarette smoke. Alcohol stays in the body for hours, but marijuana stays for days or weeks. Marijuana can also be a gateway to other drugs.

    January 19, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  22. Kris

    So when does the Federal Government FINALLY remove it from Schedule 1?

    January 19, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  23. NOBODYCARES

    The United States has went to pot. Last thing I want to smell or see when I walk into a grocery store or any private business open to the public is a person that just has smoked a bunch of pot and acting stupid.

    January 19, 2014 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  24. Chuck

    As a former user of both I have to ask how"pot is no more dangerous than alcohol" a logical argument when both are well documented to have health risks. Sure pot has medical benifits but the belief that it could be a better alternative to alcohol for recreational use is a "pipe dream" How about advocating for a healthy lifestyle without the use of alcohol or marijana?

    January 19, 2014 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  25. Kabhal

    He's right. That's really all there is too it.

    January 19, 2014 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
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