January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
3 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. dimentionaldame

    Just when I was having the open conversation with my 16 year old son ! He thinks it is perfectly ok to smoke Marijuana stating that "It's going to become legal" no wonder now Obama said it's not an evil. Wait till my son catches wind of this my parental duties at protecting my son were just overrode by the President WTF

    January 20, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  2. parshman

    This is just another example of the arrogance of this administration and president. He picks and chooses the laws he personally thinks are good or bad. Here's an update for you, Mr. President. I teach MY kids that ANYTHING that impairs their ability to make a sound decision should be avoided. Marijuana is illegal, so stop flapping your gums, Mr. President, about what YOU think, and stand behind the law.

    January 20, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  3. Mark Causey

    Starting with the La Guardia Committee, every U.S. commision set up to investigate the effects of pot on humans concluded that pot is both relatively harmless and that it should be legalized. Look up the article entitled Top 10 Cannabis Studies the Government Wished it Had Never Funded, or better yet do your own research.

    January 20, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  4. Big_D

    I think it is creepier to pollute the water for wood pulp paper than to smoke a unprocessed bud. I guess who the creeps are is all a matter of perspective.

    January 20, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. Yes It's Not

    The largest contributors to Anti-Drug campaigns are pharmaceutical companies, alcohol makers, government grants, and private fundraisers. Why would alcohol companies and Pharmaceutical companies want marijuana to remain illegal...? I hate the hypocrisy of the GOP sometimes. If they really were in favor of personal freedom, then the red states would have beaten the blue states to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. But no, they want to keep it schedule 1 because they are worried their shares in Pfizer might suffer a drop in dividend payout if people started using marijuana. Shameless.

    January 20, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  6. Big_D

    Does your 16 year old drink too? That is what Obama said, not what you made up.

    January 20, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. Jessica McGwin

    As far as Snowden is concerned, could I be wrong Yes. Could I be right Yes. So did he do harm no doubt, did he put people at risk to say the least. Regardless of my personal feeling on the matter I have to look at probability. What risk am I taking by leaving him in an operational position? Do I really want to know the answer to that question? No not really. It is just a tough spot. Do I have to put my big girl pants on. Yes. The decision is not mine to make. Would I have to eat a little crow. Yes probably. I would rather eat crow than risk any further damage. Life in prison. Under NO circumstances should I be able to prove that I am correct would he be exempt from any further charges that may arise. My gut has not once in my life steered me wrong. So that is my answer. Life in prison no immunity. Eventually the full extent of his activities will be know. At least in the Custody of the United States his employer does not have the opportunity to conceal actions.

    January 20, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  8. Seattle Sun

    Wow – People on these posts sure are ridiculous..

    The President DID NOT say he felt it was ok to smoke it. If people read the entire article they would have read his comments against using it. He was simply sharing something he considered fact and that oddly enough is much more fact than the lies we've been told about this plant (which unlike true controlled substances) is wholely made from nature.. Funny how people try to spin it into him making a statement about how it's ok to use it...not the same!

    January 20, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  9. Big_D

    The President supports what a majority of the people of the USA do. If you have a problem with it maybe you should evaluate yourself and why you don't fit in any more.

    January 20, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  10. Larry in Houston

    After spending time reading a lot of these comments on this board.....The bottom line is this : This country needs to take the "criminal element" out of Mary Jane....When that happens ( and it will, in all 50 states) ( It may take another 10 years, but it will eventually happen) All you have to do is Listen to Larry Sabato, he's very educated / smart on a range of things, including politics & just things in general....He didn't get to be a professor just out of the blue, you know....anyway, it needs to be taxed, just like alcohol, when that all happens one day, you won't see as many drug dealers on the street corners......Long ago, before they legalized alcohol, there were all sorts of "bootleggers" on practically every corner.....It's the same way w/ Mary Jane, once this country gets used to it being in stores ( Like Alcohol) You won't see the people on the street corners, like it is today.

    January 20, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  11. Me

    For the first time I agree with Obama but was hoping he would go even further and work on legalizing pot. I think this is an opportunity for him to get a lot of independents on board with at least one of his policies! I am a little disappointed that he didn't go further and at the very least, start some dialogue in Washington on legalization, but I guess this is a start at the very minimum!

    January 20, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  12. wiseguy

    another ploy to get one more voting block-the potheads-for 2016 election.

    January 20, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  13. Big_D

    The biggest difference I have seen with legal pot in Colorado is I know where it was grown and I know the people are from Colorado and the money stays in Colorado and so do the 25% plus in tax dollars. We will happily make the money you morons leave on the table. This is an idiotic prohibition that has nothing to do with real morals.

    January 20, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. fumes

    Thank You President Obama!

    You're the GREATEST!!!

    And birthday wishes to the beautiful Michelle.

    January 20, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  15. Big_D

    I have never been offered cocaine by a legal pot dealer. That is another big difference when pot is legal and sold over the counter.

    January 20, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  16. Richard

    And he says Al Queda is JV.
    The man knows danger when he sees it.

    January 20, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. PCG

    That's a stupid argument. It's no worse than alchohol. Just like there are people that drink alchohol and become total losers there will be people that smoke pot and become total losers. What's the big deal. Real convincing there Obama. The arguments to make are that the social costs of making pot illegal exceed the costs of making it legal and that in a free country the gov't does not have the right to regulate you down to the substances you put in your body.

    January 20, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  18. Asshats

    If you say it's "no more dangerous than alcohol", then I think its about time it be legalized.

    @dimentionaldame
    Your parental duties were already overshadowed by corrupt politicians to begin with. You were told when you were young that it is so dangerous and not to ever be dealt with; that it would be the demise of your self-worth and cause you to become a crazy lunatic (Reefer Madness). Now that the truth is coming from the president himself you take it to mean everything you thought you knew in the past has now been tarnished from an already brainwashed idea. I think your son will be fine, he is almost 18 so he can then decide for himself whether or not he thinks it will be a danger to himself.

    January 20, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  19. Big_D

    Don't back down Obama, there are a lot of farmers that could make a lot of money if this idiotic prohibition would stop. During WWII it was considered patriotic to grow hemp and it was required by law. With Marijuana prohibition that crop was culled along with the stuff you smoke. It was an idiotic mistake that led to our dependency on foreign markets. This stuff was used by Ford because it was cheaper than petroleum oil, it took a lot of work to make the USA dependent on oil.

    January 20, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. betterdays

    "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...It’s not something I encourage...I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time.” I find myself 100% in agreement with the president, word for word. Can't remember the last time that happened!

    January 20, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  21. clarence leblanc

    To the parent of the 16 year old who is about to talk to her son about drugs and pot…while your at it, ask him his three favorite ways to roll a joint...

    January 20, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  22. Jack 2

    This site won't let you mention obama's smoking club club he belonged to. They still protect and lie for him.

    January 20, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. Big_D

    So the GOP wants corporations to be free from regulations and taxes, they could care less about people.

    January 20, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. lagarto

    Mr. Obama, iif you really believe this, why don't you issue an executive order and free all who are incarcerated in fedieral prisons on marijuana charges and pardon those previously convicted.

    January 20, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  25. Namewhodat

    Legalize IT control IT then tax IT to death. The American way.

    January 20, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
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