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. scott

    Pot heads and alchies. One of the same.

    January 20, 2014 02:09 am at 2:09 am |
  2. Tigrr

    Next they will be OKing Bush's use of coke, Cheney's crack, and assorted other crimes of past WH residents and present Congress.
    btw: Bush WH did 9/11. CIA confirms. See CIA Asset Susan Lindauer 911 Truth, on youtube, or reports on veterans today site. US News Media is complicit for having witheld this information for now 13 years.

    January 20, 2014 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  3. YoonYoungJo

    The Prez has a really good point about Meth, Cocaine, etc. We definitely need to keep the harder and much more dangerous drugs illegal. Perhaps the balance here would be to keep the heavy trafficking enforcement and penalties high and lower the small possession/use penalties low. The only reason marijuana, I believe has become a socially acceptable drug is because the addiction aspect of it. It is addictive but I don't feel it is so addictive that it makes people do uncharacteristic things, like theft, or basically anything one needs too. If someone is stressing for marijuana, it stops at slight crabbiness.

    January 20, 2014 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  4. Pffft.

    OMG...our president is outwardly pushing drugs now. great.

    January 20, 2014 02:23 am at 2:23 am |
  5. Brandon

    I've smoked weed about half a dozen times in my life and drank more than i can remember. Weed is definitely nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol.

    January 20, 2014 02:52 am at 2:52 am |
  6. JT

    Bill Clinton wouldn't know. He didn't inhale.

    January 20, 2014 03:11 am at 3:11 am |
  7. meme

    And in another article – Obama wouldn't let son play football. But I suppose he'd let him smoke pot?

    January 20, 2014 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  8. Pete

    “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?”
    Well, actually, we really do have a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?
    Desoxyn is an FDA approved medication for ADHD and obesity. It's methamphetamine hydrochloride, chemically identical to street meth, but pure and in much smaller doses. I am not saying it's a good thing thing that it exists, I am just saying exactly what the president described exists.

    January 20, 2014 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  9. Cascade

    "Obama says marijuana ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’"

    Correction, alcohol is much worse for your health than marijuana....and the last time I checked, marijuana help hundreds of thousands sick people in more ways than one.

    January 20, 2014 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  10. ed devally

    I have been to 32 funerals of friends who died while drinking and driving and not one of who were smoking pot....

    January 20, 2014 03:55 am at 3:55 am |
  11. HumanOnEarth

    Pot high is nowhere near as incapacitating as being very drunk. You can't die, nor pass out from smoking too much pot. But you can die if you drink to much. I would say alcohol is more dangerous.

    January 20, 2014 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  12. jeff

    It all works the same. You do too much of anything..including drinking water...you will die.

    January 20, 2014 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  13. Ben Murk

    Well technically we are ok with meth as long as we call it Ritalin, and we are also ok with cocaine as it is schedule II. We are also ok with giving people synthetic heroin for getting their wisdom teeth pulled so yea, people should get he less harmful, non-toxic plant whenever they want! But hey, God forbid marijuana now becomes the gateway drug to legalizing other drugs! Oh the horrors! If cocaine were legalized tomorrow, are you gonna go run and buy a gram? Heck no! Just like you shouldn't go do legal Xanax, or legal heroin (oxycodone) unless your doctor recommends it and you follow strict dosing guidelines and don't exceed yourself. Like an adult. We don't need cops telling us what to put in our bodies. Thats between you God, and your Doctor.

    January 20, 2014 04:21 am at 4:21 am |
  14. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    I don't smoke pot either and my children are well aware of the drawbacks to all drugs, including pot and alcohol. But I also think we need to stop telling people they can't do what they want with drugs, any more than we tell them what to do with alcohol.

    January 20, 2014 04:26 am at 4:26 am |
  15. angelharlem

    It would be nice to see my streets drug and gun free..I think we keep it off the streets it helps most americans not use it as a defense mechanism..A excuse to do drugs...We have mental illness to treat..If we say Some are allowed others are not..Everyone wants to be allowed..If you believe in a stronger foundation for our future children..I would say No to pot..

    January 20, 2014 04:42 am at 4:42 am |
  16. father of two

    Now if he could just take the small steps it would require, to back up his words with actions nationally, and put the necessary regulations in place to due away with ALL federal prosecution of non-violent Cannabis users and small time, non-corporate farmers. Allowing for research on a broader scale, as well as the farming and processing of hemp on American Soil as it was done for centuries. We don't want our daughters lived de-railed either Mr. president.. so let us enforce our influence over our children on this matter, not give that power to the police, where it is systemized, cold and devastation.

    January 20, 2014 04:48 am at 4:48 am |
  17. U ain't know

    Well cocaine and amphetamines are already in legal use for medical purposes. Cocaine is an anesthetic and used in eye drops, amphetamine salts are used for ADHD

    January 20, 2014 05:00 am at 5:00 am |
  18. Dave

    Having a glass of wine to complement your dinner is a lot less harmful than someone smoking pot. The wine drinker isn't doing it to get drunk, where as the addict is using this drug for the sole purpose of getting high. Otherwise why inhale all that smoke into your lungs for no reason?

    January 20, 2014 05:00 am at 5:00 am |
  19. Stampers

    All these "well where do we draw the line" people are rediculous... where in this article is anyone saying to make cocaine, heroin, or meth legal? This whole line of thinking is OLD news and is just tiresome fear mongering of the ignorant...use some common sense please. Marijuana isn't in the same ballpark as these other drugs, not even the same league, hell...its not even the same sport...

    No one, including the President, thinks that we should allow legal use of those substances....

    January 20, 2014 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  20. Jayman

    No matter what the drug is ? they all destroy and ruins people live...

    January 20, 2014 05:18 am at 5:18 am |
  21. Chris Asking Question

    If more people were stoned, how would that affect businesses, manufacturing, safety, national security, etc.?

    January 20, 2014 05:24 am at 5:24 am |
  22. Name

    FunFact: Both teams that are in the Super Bowl are from states that legalized recreational marijuana use.I guess marijuana isnt that bad

    January 20, 2014 05:26 am at 5:26 am |
  23. sam stone

    if he wants to treat users fairly, allow weed to have the same legal status as alcohol

    January 20, 2014 05:36 am at 5:36 am |
  24. Nick

    What do you expect from an addict?

    January 20, 2014 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  25. Cynthia W

    Great Washington lawmakers make a speedy decision to legalize weed but totally incapable of making a MORAL decision on emergency unemployment. Hey, don't forget about us over here, the people you left stranded in the world with no money; while you get high and eat your 10 oz steaks as your munchies! THANK YOU VERY MUCH WASHINGTON LAW MAKERS I AM PROUD TO BE CALLED AN american

    January 20, 2014 05:54 am at 5:54 am |
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