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. rich

    What is important about this issue, is that the White House is analyzing the issue and trying to come up with a solution, "FINALLY". Some of the politician in congress are guilty of trying marijuana, and I dare say that some of them still smoke some (marijuana) on a continuous level. Let's stop the hypocrisy shall we? It is all about lobbying in Washington. You and I know that the cigarette companies are already gearing up to the legalization of marijuana. It is a market that they can't afford to miss out on. if the government "legalized marijuana" I bet have of Washington politicians would be smoking up a storm.

    January 20, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  2. agFinder

    Has no overdose amount (so says the CDC) – unlike alcohol which can easily kill an adult human being. Is not addictive (so says the AMA) – unlike alcohol, or esp. tobacco. Is not a 'gateway drug' (over 99% of long term users report no other drug use).
    If you think MJ is horrible you've simply been listening too closely to lies from the Fed, Big Pharma, and the Law Enforcement and Prison-for-profit community (because they don't want their funds to dry up). The first laws against MJ were because hemp was competing too well against wood for paper. It's never been about public health and it still isn't today. I'm a mid-50's Software Developer and both I and many of my peers smoke MJ every day. Wake up. Stop swallowing their lies.

    January 20, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  3. Laura

    If you've ever lived with an alcoholic, then you know that it is true. There is no denying that any drug can be abused to the detriment of the user and it doesn't matter if it is a legal or illegal drug.

    January 20, 2014 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  4. BrickellPrincess

    Not being a junkie is still better than weed or alcohol!

    January 20, 2014 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  5. DS

    I will have to go with the President on this one. Lets get this stuff legalized and regulated. The amount of weed being sold by the Mexican drug cartels should be an indication that somebody is smoking it and not paying taxes for its use.

    January 20, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  6. John

    Andy, Tens of thousands already smoke on their way home from work, and they don't kill anyone! Worst case scenario a bad driver to begin with will smoke marijuana, wreck, and society will blame in on dope instead of a person being irresponsible.

    January 20, 2014 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  7. Coo

    Here it comes, he's going to legalize it

    January 20, 2014 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  8. Banquo's Ghost

    The only one's left fighting for keeping pot smoking a crime are the police, and organized crime...they are the one's that profit from maintaining the status quo....The thing is the same amount of pot will be purchased, and consumed...whether or not it is decriminalized...the question is do you want the money to go to buying guns and crack? Or Schools and hospitals?

    January 20, 2014 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  9. Lance

    Couldn't figure out what was wrong with my 16 year old: flunking every class, gaining weight, yellow teeth, moody. Then learned he had been smoking weed for 12 months.

    January 20, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  10. Gordon

    I find it journalistically interesting that the title of this article is not actually what he supposedly said . Is it too hard to transpose correctly now "journalists" ? Thus bringing into question which of the two are what he actually said ?

    January 20, 2014 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  11. Tony Bartlett

    Obama is no worse than Marx or Lenin

    January 20, 2014 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  12. dsmidiman

    For me, the sad or bad part about this whole "legalization of hemp" thing going on in our country today is the "reasoning" behind the govt. FINALLY coming to it's senses and legalizing it. That reasoning of course is the "almighty dollar"!! For centuries it's been more profitable for law enforcement, prison system (especially the privately owned prisons) etc. to arrest, incarcerate (for slave labor), and confiscate personal property to auction off, etc. those who got caught smoking a joint. Now they have realized that so very many people use hemp, and regardless of their efforts to make us all think hemp is dangerous, a "gateway" to harder drugs, etc. etc. there is just too much evidence available to debunk those claims. So they now know that by legalizing it and taxing the heck out of it they can make just as much if not more than they were making before. Voila!! Legal MJ.... It has nothing to do with the health and well being of we citizens, it has nothing to do with freedom, it has nothing to do with what is right or wrong, or anything of the sort. Like everything else in this country it's simply ALL about how much money can be made!! Personally, I'm glad that MJ is becoming legal, the hypocrisy behind the argument that it is "bad" for you and therefore the govt. should keep you from using it when we have so very many other "really harmful" habits like alcohol, cigs. prescription drugs, etc. is mind boggling to me. And the fact that alcohol, cigs. etc are still legal TOTALLY undermines the idea that our govt. is simply interested in the health, safety and well being of it's citizens......... Like any and everything else in our country goes, it's ALL about the money!! And since we now live in a country where over 75% of it's wealth lies in the hands of less than 5% of it's people, it shouldn't be very hard to figure out where all that money will be going..

    January 20, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  13. liberal disease

    this from a guy who hates coal?

    January 20, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  14. Christina Honigberg

    Once again why am I not suprized by this stupid statement Obama has made about marijuana ? Any thing the government can make money from regardless of who it hurts they will do. To believe other wise you must be on drugs.Once United States was respected around the world what happened?

    January 20, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Lets be realistic here. Marijuana is a beautiful, natural plant that Can be grown without any chemical enhancement. It is known to relieve aches and pains, calm anxiety, relax the mind to a semi-meditative state and many, many people across the plant use it in religious practices to open the mind to possibility. I do believe that if everyone across the planet sat back and had a puff or two there would be a hell of a lot less fighting ;) comparing marijuana to cocaine and crystal meth is like comparing a flower to a can of borax. Makes no sense at all, right? Marijuana is no more an addictive substance than having a scoop of ice cream and wanting another.

    January 20, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  16. TheBigT

    That's probably because he is smoking it.

    January 20, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  17. Cartman

    While agree with the legalization of pot, we need to do it in the correct way.
    Just making it legal is not the correct way. The current production & distribution system is completely controlled by criminal enterprises, with street gangs playing a major role. If we just legalize it, we are just giving more power to these criminal enterprises.
    We need to control the production and distribution to control these criminals. Have strict government control over who can produce and distribute pot. Enact strict laws with harsh sentences for those that don't follow the laws. If there is a legal channel to get pot, why would shouldn't we punish people who operate outside that channel?
    Done correctly, legalized pot can help reduce organized crime.

    January 20, 2014 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  18. AlGoreLies

    wow! who would have thought a president would make such a statement..
    Sad, but true, as the govt. boot heel comes down on the neck of its citizens, "give 'em the circus!, give 'em bread!, give 'em sexual deviance! and give 'em all the drugs they wish! Thus, they will never feel their lives and liberty escaping them while in the midst of immorality".
    LCeja

    January 20, 2014 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  19. AlGoreLies

    and he is still allowed to govern this nation.....wow!
    this reggin is the leftist communist wet dream by the gallons..wow.

    January 20, 2014 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  20. tet1953

    lol was just listening to Ben Ferguson on CNN. What an arse. Well, he is right about one thing. It is wrong to say that pot is no different than alcohol or cigarettes. Those things are far worse than pot.

    January 20, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  21. Goony

    While high on marijuana, young "Barry " flipped a car he and other Choom Gang members were in. To say pot is harmless is ridiculous .Theyre lucky to be alive.

    January 20, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  22. Jme

    The man just keeps showing he is a fool.

    January 20, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  23. someoneelse

    Tow points...

    1. Hemp has gotten a bad rap ever since WR Hearst pushed to have it outlawed to protect his paper industry.
    2. Governent has no business regulating and taxing alcohol or Marijuana.

    January 20, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  24. james

    It makes no difference about the side effects of marijuana, if any. The pendulum is swinging and pot will be legal. People are not concerned about possible side effects. So bring it on and let us see how it goes.

    January 20, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  25. Gale

    According to CNN this morning, President Obama stated that poor kids are black and Latinos. Excuse me Mr. President, incase you haven't noticed, there are also poor white kids in this country that also get treated unfairly.
    Poor white kids get thrown into jail a lot quicker than the rich ones. So it's not just the black and latino kids who are poor and getting unfair treatment in this country.

    January 20, 2014 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
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