January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
6 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. antiMSNBC

    It would have been thoughtful if he had cited some scientific evidence rather than just giving his opinion as fact. There`s a reason it`s in the Schedule 1 category backed by some solid studies by well-known institutions.

    January 20, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  2. JininNM

    We will all be held accountable for misleading people, and people in positions of authority have more responsibility.

    January 20, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  3. Sonny

    I smoked nearly as much weed in 'Nam as cigs and I was a two pack a day user by the end of my tour. I have never had and ill effects from the weed, but quitting smoking tobacco was the hardest thing I have ever done and now have chronic bronchitis due to the tobacco. I don't know how widely it's known but cigs were packaged with our 'C' rations. And I'm slowly dying from exposure to the military's wonderful cocktail, agent orange, so frankly, the government's objection to smoking weed strikes me as gross hypocrisy. From a sociological viewpoint prohibition programs have been failures more often than not. The 18th Amendment is I believe the primary cause of organized crime. And look what our prohibition of weed has done for organized crime. When I was much younger (back in the '60s), one's pot dealer was your buddy down the street and wanted to make sure his customers received high quality product. Now one never knows what's in the weed and the dealer would just as soon shoot you as look at you. In my opinion weed should be legalized and regulated, just like liquor or tobacco. After Prohibition was ended organized crime took at least a temporarily nose dive. Of course they bounced back with gambling and prostitution, but at least the alcohol wars were over.

    January 20, 2014 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  4. Farrok

    It's past time to change these "Marijuana Laws" and keep our young people out of jail and prison. These laws are used to attack young people and minorities when the authorities have no other ammunition to use. End Marijuana prohibition now; save money and keep our young people out of trouble with the Law.

    January 20, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  5. bfpiercelk

    So the president states it's pretty much like alcohol, but absolutely refuses to TREAT it like alcohol.

    Amazing, the President reads a hypocritical statement from PREPARED REMARKS and we're suppose to cheer?

    January 20, 2014 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  6. Texan

    This country is really going to heck in a hand basket. The "president" is all but endorsing the use of a drug that is classified as illegal by the federal government. What next, we get a "president" that abused the neighbor's kid growing up so then that too become okay? The guy is a moron and so is anyone who agrees with him.

    January 20, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  7. justin c

    If you think weed is bad you clearly have no idea what your talking about. Freaking out over people driving high is even more ludicrous. People that drive stoned may be liable to be driving five miles under the speed limit. Drunk drivers on the other hand are the most dangerous thing you can come across. I am only 26 years old and this is really common sense for me. So if your older and debating the other side please get a clue. Knowledge is king and correct information will lead to a better society.

    January 20, 2014 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  8. Average Joe

    Maybe he's right about how dangerous marijuana is. Nevertheless, as president he should enforce the laws of the land. His job is to enforce the laws of the land until such time as they are changed by the legislative process.

    January 20, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  9. john

    No worse. Look how it has screwed up his brain, and by default is now screwing up the country through his actions.

    January 20, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  10. jarvis

    I agree with what the President says here. This may be the first time.
    I also strongly believe that persistent use of weed makes people dumb.

    January 20, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  11. Anonymous

    really ? tell that to a former friends son who has permanent damage to his left arm and foot because mom cracked up car under influence of pot when he was 5. or the 3 20somethings who are now convicted felons for b&e into my home, caught trading my electronics for 25lbs marijuana that they intended to sell. it's naive to suggest alcohol & pot are harmless and have no victims !

    January 20, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  12. Cyril Rayan

    What is our President doing? He has not done his job nd now he is ruining the lives of children and adults with these kind of statements.

    January 20, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  13. Stephen

    America is living another nightmare now. Thanks to obama and wrecking crew, America is a second rate drama show and the ratings are plummeting. America needs a leader FOR Americans and America. Not just liberals, not just conservatives! I'll be glad when the freak show ends!

    January 20, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  14. Sevensins

    There he goes "ObamaFraud". Spewing statements and making comparisons he knows absolutely nothing about and the media and numbskulls lap it up.

    Ahhhh Jason heads up the shooter was 12. He did not buy the guns legally or other wise. You folks crack me up becasue you think putting restrictions on the law-abiding will have an effect on nut cases and criminals.

    January 20, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  15. clarence leblanc

    Do people not realize that if anything making pot legal will keep it out of the hands of children…teens. ask any high school kid in the US…what is harder to get…pot or alcohol and they will say booze. If Super Bad was about getting weed Johnna Hill would have been back in 15 minutes without leaving school grounds.

    January 20, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  16. Anonymous

    Why is it that our establishments of Goverment and Religion constantly want to dicate what freedoms are acceptable or moral based on their beliefs. I believe the intent of our founding fathers was to give us freedoms from those entities that oppressed them and took away their freedoms and right to choose. We see today how the relegious community uses the government to try to dictate their moral beliefs. Instead of using love and charity to change society in a positive manner, many of the religious right have decided it is easier to have the goverment enforce their moral agenda for them. Everyone one should have the right to believe what they want to, but that believe is for themselves, not to dictate to others. You hear the cries from the right "DON'T TRED ON ME", and that's great, but then don't YOU "TRED ON ME" either. It goes both ways. For all of us to live in a free society we need to be tolerant and acceptance of each other and put our bigotries aside. I have my prejuiduces as well but how about we make a deal. I don't take away your guns and crosses and you don't take away my Bongs and free spirit and we call it even.

    January 20, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  17. citizenUSA

    “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?”

    First, you can't compare vodka to cocaine. Two different affects on your body. I'd actually MIGHT prefer cocaine to alcohol being legal. I think most people could handle being high on it more than booze. Also the majority of the population don't wan't the harder substances be legal. It's about what's socally acceptable.

    January 20, 2014 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  18. Cis

    i find it obscene that anyone would suggest that pot and alcohol are harmless and have no victims. really would you want your surgeon, school teacher or pilot high on pot or alcohol ? a former friend's son is permanently disabled because she was high on pot and cracked up car when he was 5. my home was broken into by 3 20somethings who traded my electronics for 25lbs of pot they intended to sell. this costs individuals, towns, federal gov't and taxpayers money to remedy the damage. it's neither harmless or victimless.

    January 20, 2014 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  19. Chris

    Clinton didn't inhale and Obama always passed after two puffs...go donkeys!

    January 20, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  20. PhysicsPhD

    Americans have been bringing down the country just fine without pot.

    January 20, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  21. Beasterdamus

    I disagree...There is a time and place for smoking weed. Chronic use degrades the mind and therefore takes that individual out of the collective good. Contributions to mankind are less from Chronic users of weed...

    January 20, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  22. Mel

    When a person smokes pot or drinks to get buzzed, he or she is not fully "present." The world is a complicated and sometimes dangerous place. For one's own safety and the safety of others, it is important to be "present" and clear thinking. We need to defend ourselves and our country–not just from physical attacks, but from laws that erode our Constitutional rights. Having the ability to reason and to make unimpaired decisions are key elements of freedom.

    January 20, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  23. wm Scot

    I have been smoking pot since I was 16. I am retired 66 years old a white male that was very successful in business. I found that pot helped me relax after very stressful and long days like some would of a couple of martinis but without the hangover. For some, like in alcohol, it was not the right choice. Regulate it and decriminalize it and move on !
    Go Hawks !!!!!

    January 20, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  24. bakaluka

    Legalizing Cocaine will not happen because of the documented horror stories about it. Pot is known for being non dangerious

    January 20, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  25. Mike Parent

    "Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy ... and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with 'scientific support' ... fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others. ... The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents."
    – William F. Buckley,
    Commentary in The National Review, April 29, 1983, p. 495

    It's amazing how many posters, here, are parroting Time worn Propaganda and Lies.

    January 20, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
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