January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
8 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. freedomofspeechimamerican

    Alcohol when abused is like heroin is to a addict !
    Weed when abuse is like hippies that just want to sell organic burritos and setup animal shelters and care giving
    facilities for humans for free

    January 19, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  2. USA John

    There is always an excuse, " it will lead to heroin, It will be given to the kids, the Fact that the 3 groups that dont want to make it Legal ( and TAXABLE) are 1 Liquor companies.. they rather you be drunk, rink responsable, dont drink and drive, butthey sell beer at gas stations...2 Rehab Centers... they want to keep the pot head coming back to dry out, they boast of a 12 % sucess rate.... thats 88 % fail rate, I wish i had to only produce a 12 % sucess in my job... 3 Private Detention services, where there are no Dept. of corrections as in big cities... put the lil pot head in prison we need guards to protect the community... I dont smoke but to think it leads to worse or kids will get it you are wearing a blind fold, it's so easy now for kids to get pot, regulate it ...harsh penelties if you sell to minors, or drive while smoking..now it just makes the illegle drug smugglers rich as inthe Probition of the 20's

    January 19, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  3. Fuhrer X

    It will be legal in all states in the end.. sheesh.. let's just get on with it.

    January 19, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  4. mike

    I think his angle is to ban alcohol and not legalize pot. Obama's goal is to have the government control every citizens move.

    January 19, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  5. freedomofspeechimamerican

    Alcohol when abused is like heroin is to a addict !
    Cannabis when abuse is like hippies that just want to sell organic burritos and setup animal shelters and care giving
    facilities for humans for free

    January 19, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  6. Mike C

    Hey kids. President Obama just said that it is OK to do drugs.
    Err, what do you expect from a president that goes around talking about the benefits of good health and then goes and hides in a special area of the White House to light up a match and cigarette. Yep, he loves to hide from the press that he is himself a cigarette smoker. Now sure about today but he was also a pot smoker.

    January 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    And he still smokes , maybe.

    January 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. Northern Spirit

    This man will yet destroy this country.
    The AMA is against legalizing marijuana and het says it is no worse than alcohol.
    He has about the same depth of knowledge in this area as he does on just about anything else he gets involved in.
    November 2016 cannot come quick enough

    January 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. Adam

    Hey morons I'm a college senior who smokes a good bit and going to medical school next year, people do it for the stress and nothing more. I can assure you that I am not brain dead.

    January 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  10. JUST LEGALIZE ALREADY

    The meth and cocaine is a bad analogy because you can od and die in one sitting with either of those drugs and other drugs. There has never in the history of marijuana been a report of someone smoking to much marijuana and dying unless they already had previous health issues..

    January 19, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  11. Devon

    If you get the country high and drunk, it's easier to take the rest of their freedoms. I don't mind pot, but you can see an agenda here.

    January 19, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  12. b

    No new taxes

    January 19, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. Merlin

    Well, don't go trying it in "legal" states, then come back to your home state and face a drug test at work. You'll still be dismissed and have no income due to your "recreational" use. Employers are not a democracy. If it is detected in your system, they are compelled to discharge you. What the President says is merely his opinion. It isn't the users that are the problem, though. It's the ruthless cartels and even dealers who act like they're some poor dumb kid's friend, asking them to cover for them while the poor kid gets busted while holding. It happens every day.

    January 19, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  14. KING ANT TO U

    First of all bama you are a great president . I use to smoke it but now have a family. Time to grow up and leave the childish ways behind as the word of God says...

    January 19, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  15. malcolmkyle

    Alcohol, when used alone, is "involved" in far more emergency department visits than every illegal drug combined. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control): "In the single year 2005, there were more than 1.6 million hospitalizations and more than 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions." A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine in 2012 suggests that as many as 50 percent of emergency room visits could be alcohol-related. In New York City for instance, nearly 74,000 people visited hospitals in 2009 for alcohol-related reasons, compared with just 22,000 in 2003.

    Apart from the fact that legal drugs cause more crime and kill far more people than all the illegal drugs combined, debating whether a particular drug is harmless or not is missing the whole point. Are drugs like Cocaine, Heroin, Meth or Alcohol dangerous? It simply doesn't matter, because if we prohibit them then we sure as hell know that it makes a bad situation far worse. If someone wants to attempt to enhance or destroy their lives with particular medicines or poisons, that should be their business, not anybody else's. Their lives aren't ours to direct. And anyway, who wants to give criminals, terrorists and corrupt law enforcement agents a huge un-taxed, endless revenue stream?

    January 19, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  16. TiredofSilly1

    BHO has also admitted to using cocaine in his youth. Shall we legalize that next? Anything that the great (sort of) black hope did or does must be OK, right??? How typically irresponsible he is in making this statement. What a sad state of affairs it is when a drug using socialist is sitting in the White House spending the money of people who work for for a living. The end of this nightmare cannot come too soon.

    January 19, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  17. CALiberal

    Actually the entire Drug War is more harmful than the drugs it prohibits. It's the wrong way to treat drugs. Drugs are a medical issue and the DEA knows nothing about medicine or cares. Doctors are the right people to treat drug problems, not jail.

    January 19, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  18. nunya

    “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 IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ON THIS ISSUE.. I DO NOT USE MJ, BUT I DONT HAVE ANY PROBLEM WITH ANYONE WHO DOES. LEGALIZE IT NOW.... TAX IT NOW...

    January 19, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  19. Tony in Stl

    I don't think either alcohol or pot are bad, ...when used in moderation. A nice drink or a few puffs will relax most people. But to drink the whole damned bottle, or smoke the whole joint (or two) ...well that's different! Just sayin'!

    January 19, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  20. VA Nurse

    Headline states per Obama he says marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. Are you kidding me?!!! I have been a nurse for 17 years- 4 in corrections and 15 at the VA center taking care of our Heroes- our Veterans. I would much rather care for someone who is high on marijuana compared to an alcoholic. The person high on marijuana wants to est and sleep but the alcoholic wants to fight. Alcoholics are mouthy, combative, aggressive and CAN die from withdrawals. The heart rate and blood pressure rise to dangerous levels, dehydration related to nausea and vomiting and poor nutrition. They often end up in restraints- tied to the bed- because they are a danger to themselves or others. They hit, kick, spit on nurses, pull out IVs delivering much needed medicine, they fall, and are incontinent( soil themselves).The long term effects are worse compared to marijuana- alcoholics get liver disease which leads to many other complications, they get ulcers (varies) in their throat and one good cough or vomit – those varies bust and they bleed out!!!!!'

    Tell an alcoholic how they acted after they're thru DT' ing and they never believe it. Only if we could record them!!!!!

    So Obama-– it's no worse– go to your local VA hospital or any hospital and YES you will see the difference.

    I am not a tobacco, alcohol or drug user. But I believe stiffer penalties need placed on alcoholics and lesser penalties on minor marijuana offenders.

    January 19, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  21. Name

    Great now the fraud wants your kids to become a druggie..

    January 19, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  22. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @Clark Vaughan: "Allowing the proliferation of pot encourages a culture of doing less, accomplishing less, and taking more, which coincidentally, is a theme that shows up in other Obama policies."

    By your reasoning, red states are full of pot heads. Why? Because red states have the highest high school drop-out rates; the lowest average incomes; the highest divorce rates (they don't work too hard at their marriages, apparently); and the highest teen pregnancy rates (again, not working very hard to take care of themselves).

    And most Red states are financially "in the red" when it comes to how much money they receive from Washington compared with what their residents pay in taxes. (For example, the top 10 states receiving the most federal funding per tax dollar paid are New Mexico: $2.63; West Virginia: $2.57; Mississippi: $2.47; District of Colombia: $2.41; Hawaii: $2.38; Alabama: $2.03; Alaska: $1.93; Montana: $1.92; South Carolina: $1.92; Maine: $1.78).

    Maybe what those states need are a good dose of "Blue" to help them become more productive members of society.

    January 19, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  23. justbeamensch

    Obama is dangerous because this is a dim witted country that is not used to dealing with the truth. We finally have a President that speaks to us like adults, and we react like children. The truth is dangerous, but far less dangerous than ignorance.

    January 19, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  24. Joe

    This guy is the ultimate populist. First, he "evolved" on gay marriage. Now, this. What a transparent pu1z.

    January 19, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  25. Serge Storms

    “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.

    I've never bought into any of these slippery slope arguments. Every drug is different and our laws should reflect that, and do in some cases. We allow alcohol consumption in some public places where we often ban cigarette smoking. And people driving cars are free to smoke cigarettes but are not allowed to consume alcohol. The differences in these laws are based on the differences in the effects of the drugs. That is smart and allows people to fulfill their desire to consume these drugs while minimizing the negatives to others. Weed has little in common with either alcohol, cocaine or meth, and fewer negatives than any of them. We're long overdue in recognizing that.

    January 19, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
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