January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
9 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. bill39

    Just what we need: another legal, addictive drug. I'm sure this will improve the health and productivity of Americans. (not...)

    January 20, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  2. EncinoMan

    Lip service is all fine and well but Obama has been more of a "hands off" President, when it comes to marijuana. Obama has done very little to advance the cause of medicinal marijuana, recreational marijuana, or the cause of keeping our youth out of prisons for a victimless crime. He promised that raids on dispensaries would stop and they didn't. I do not see the logic or rationale in saying that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and then saying that you don't support changing it from a schedule 1 drug, which puts it up there with good ol' heroin. Less harmful than alcohol, but still a desire to lump it in with heroin and hard time. Also, is Obama saying he doesn't believe in marijuana's medicinal benefits, despite the mountains of research? He must if he is still supporting keeping marijuana a schedule 1. I also do not like his hypocrisy in complaining about arresting pot users but, again, he has no desire to decriminalize or give medicinal credit to the plant. I am a huge Obama supporter but this is one area where he has severely let down his constituents. I'm glad he has a more enlightened view of marijuana in comparison with past Presidents but that means squat if he isn't willing to change what's wrong in the system. It's like he wants credit for being a cool guy but doesn't want to go so far as to back that up. Very, very disappointed. He could spearhead the change to reschedule the drug before a Republican gets in there and institutes more raids on dispensaries but it's clearly not one of his priorities.

    January 20, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  3. Patrick

    America's chief law enforcement officer essentially advocates breaking the law. That's just great.

    There was a time not long ago when our nations leaders tried (in public at least) to represent a higher ideal. They worked hard to inspire us to become better, work harder, be braver, achieve more.

    Now our president is suggesting that getting baked in your basement with your buddies is ok by him.

    Barack Obama – President of the United Potheads of America

    January 20, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  4. Name 4 ObamaCare

    The President is right again, how many deaths have been cause by marijuana compared to other drugs, alcohol, tobacco and guns and some of those people who are against weed support the other crap.

    January 20, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  5. Common sense

    True, both are very dangerous (I know that O is trying to say that neither is a big deal.). This doesn't change the fact that obama is a joke of a president.

    January 20, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  6. Bob1981

    Regarding pot and kids, surprise kids are exposed to pot daily in middle/high school same as when I went to school in the 70's, why? because it's illegal and only drug dealers can sell it. The drug dealers don't care if they sell to a 16 year old or a 30 year old, both illegal going to jail for both. The 16 year old with a bag of dope is the cool kid, the outlaw, the respected one, he will give / sell / smoke with your kid because it's cool and outlawed. Oddly if you want to "protect" your kid from the pot ( not really necessary) legalize it and tax it, 21 and up only. At least this way if they want to get some they will have to steal it from the parents same way they get booze, pills, etc.. Kids will be kids.

    January 20, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  7. Fire

    President Obama, take Marijuana off the Schedule one list and let the people decide if marijuana is good or not good for themselves. Use the money from high taxation to repay the national debt. Please don't even compare marijuana with hard narcotics like cocaine that is usually stepped on with dangerous chemicals. If the Federal and States controlled marijuana the buyer would get clean marijuana. There are more important things than arresting someone for a small amount of marijuana in their possession. Waste of time, maybe a way to relieve pressures from life.

    January 20, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  8. Raging Dragon

    Alcohol and Nicotine have been legal in the US, cause more deaths, lead to violence and social disorder. Pot leads to watching cartoons and ordering pizza. Productive members of society? Maybe not, but at least they aren't out on the streets driving cars, unlike some Senators...

    January 20, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  9. Bob aloo

    Alcohol is much more dangerous than weed

    January 20, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  10. Feral Urchin

    Whether or not legalizing currently controlled substances is good public policy I'm not certain–partly because we lack mechanisms to reliably predict the consequences of policy decisions.

    However, there are a number of recent scientific studies that show pot use is harmful to cognitive development when use is begun during teen years [these are easy to find using Google]. Additional studies may clarify or dispute these findings.

    Obama's statements do not reference any particular studies, but instead appear to reflect common left-leaning social attitudes toward pot. That a President of the United States would casually state–and without citing evidence–"I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol" is beyond unthinkable. I understand his remarks primarily as his attempt to troll for Democratic votes, particularly among young people. Or perhaps instead he is simply being as egregiously stupid as he has been on numerous other occasions.

    I view Obama as the most feckless President ever. The man is a national embarassment.

    January 20, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  11. fragglerock

    “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?”

    We already have that. And it is legal.

    It is called DESOXYN, also known as Pharmaceutical Grade Methamphetamine. It is a C-2, same class as Adderall and Ritalin.

    Yes, your doctor can already prescribe one of the worst drugs of abuse available on the black market.

    End the hypocrisy and legalize Marijuana.

    January 20, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  12. Larry in Houston

    Hate to be a bearer of bad tidings, but Obama just had an Opinion....It doesn't mean that everyone has to get on him for it.......As a Business Owner, and since I've got 4 gals working for me, IF they came IN higher than a kite, I would have no other choice to send them home, period....

    After the 3rd offense, I would be looking for someone else to replace her, period.

    It's the same thing as if somebody comes into your place of Business Drunk, or have an employee Drunk, while he or she is working....

    IF they want to drink a case of Beer after they go home, it's their choice.....same way w/ mary jane....this should be done After Work Hours, not during, period.

    January 20, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  13. JJ

    I do not remember ever sucking in second hand alcohol. I do remember sucking in second hand pot smoke. I moved away, but, I should not have too. I do remember driving home friends that smoked pot because they could not focus. Same with alcohol. They are both dangerous behind the wheel and should not be tolerated. I know this was not the topic, but, it is of my opinion. There needs to be regulations. I have never tried pot, and do not intend too ever. I do know people that cannot think or hold a thought because their brain is fried.

    January 20, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  14. JJ

    There are some excellent comments here both Pro & Con.
    the thing that people forget is the fact that "they" might be able to handle pot" OK but not everyone is in that same category.
    Alcohol has destroyed countless lives; pot will do the same.
    I wish President Obama kept as quite on this as he does Benghazi.
    He's the leaders of America and once again he proves he's not worthy of that title.
    Where's Bill Clinton when you need him?

    January 20, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  15. John Medwid

    I can count on one hand the number of things that I agree with this man on, this is one of them.

    January 20, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  16. Sophie Meyer

    Finally! Someone willing to take a reasonable stand on marijuana.

    January 20, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  17. geno marcello

    Obama is on target with his stance on marijuana, even though I wish he could view it even more favorably than he does. But with his self-serving statements about cocaine, meth and other seriously addictive illegal drugs, I think he is on extremely shaky ground. Sounds like he simply made those statement as a CYA gimmick and everybody in the military or elsewhere probably knows what CYA stands for.

    January 20, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  18. SuperD

    Ok if Obama admits that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol then why isn't he trying to pass federal law to decriminalize it? ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. ESPECIALLY FROM SOMEONE WHO CONSTANTLY GOES BACK ON THEIR WORD AND WHOM ISN'T TRUTHFUL.

    January 20, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  19. Edward

    When are they going to legalize hemp then? You dont smoke it, plenty of products can be made out of it. Tree huggers and green peace should be all for it. We wouldn't need the farm bill.

    January 20, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  20. jpmichigan

    As an American taxpayer, I would want ALL government officials to be drug tested, the President, Govenors and Mayors, down.. Majority of them do not act professionally or follow the oath of office they have taken. The changes that have occurred since 2008 have not all been to better the American people. Our President states the poor are labeled for MJ use, but then how can the POOR afford MJ on government assistance.. Whom are we helping with all the social money being handed out, drug suppliers.

    January 20, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  21. Vusi

    Would people hate him less if he wore an ugly sweater like Bill Cosby?

    January 20, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  22. Logictox

    Obama should know, he has probably smoked a great deal of it.

    January 20, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  23. kinitra

    The notion that Obama has been stoned all this time does seem to make sense.

    January 20, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  24. trevor bryant of flagstaff az

    If pot is less dangerous than pot or alcohol, the president can, with a flick of his pen, make it less illegal, and even "not illegal" to the federal government. If that is what he believes, then he should. Pot is far less deadly than either alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Tobacco companies would change that, and pot would become JUST as bad and JUST as addictive as tobacco, but that is a CHOICE people are allowed to make, with drugs like marijuana, which are far less addictive than caffeine, far less destructive than cigarettes, far less intoxicating than alcohol. Legalize marijuana Mr. President.

    January 20, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  25. Enough is Enough

    Jason – go chill, smoke another joint and wait for the check to show up. No worse than alcohol – probably right.....and nobody ever lost their job, their family or their life because of booze....so what the heck – let the potheads have the same fun......

    January 20, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
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