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. john.deatherage

    So marijuana is just a bad habit. Will President Obama use his power to commute the sentences of those in jail solely for marijuana related offenses? Or will President Obama continue to try to please everyone?

    January 19, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  2. Yo

    So will Obama let his daughter date a unemployed illegal on food stamps and welfare with gay friends that smokes pot

    January 19, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  3. lowell

    What else would you expect a COVERT Soviet agent to say?

    January 19, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  4. justbeamensch

    Thanks President Obama for speaking the truth.

    January 19, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  5. ross

    We already have a highly calibrated dose of meth it's called aderall.

    January 19, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @Name: "Great now the fraud wants your kids to become a druggie.."

    What is it about President Obama saying “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.” that you don't get?

    The junkie in this equation, Name, is you and your addiction to right-wing, false soundbites and your inability to THINK. Give it up and start dealing with reality.

    January 19, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  7. Regularguy22

    Obama – No more dangerous than Stalin

    January 19, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  8. lowell

    Shouldn't the man have something to say about improving the ECONOMY?
    Or. is he leaving that to adults?

    January 19, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. JoeS

    The alcohol culture is strong and even with its problems, it is glorified by those that enjoy it. Meanwhile, the stoner culture is denigrated. We only ask that in this land of freedom, that we be allowed to pick our poison. What is the threat that isn't eclipsed by the problems alcohol brings? Is it that stoners tend to question authority more? The prez went down the right road in this interview, but there is no guarantee that the next president will allow stoner culture gains to remain. An executive order that removes marijuana from the scheduled drug list would be a good start. Let freedom ring.

    January 19, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. whit11

    i knew he gets high, that why he don't remember thing that happen. hurry up cnn delete my post, i said something about the king.

    January 19, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. freedomofspeechimamerican

    GEORGE WASHINGTON SMOKED CANNABIS FOR HIS BAD WOODEN TEETH – Have we changed so much that
    we are genetically different from our founding fathers, did they not warn their children touch the alcohol or the cannabis
    without my permission and I will deal with you like a child and not as my child I am raising to be and adult !
    Did the FDA or DEA arrest George Washington to forfeiture his land and money and put him in jail and deny him
    the right to vote ?

    January 19, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  12. Kate Hanni

    Have you ever smoked it? It's been years but I grew up in Humboldt County which is the marijuana capital of the world. And I can tell you that marijuana does not have the same debilitating issues that alcohol does. And putting pot in the same category as heroin? Anyone seen the old movie "reefer madness"...

    January 19, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. disgusted

    Considering the number of alcohol related deaths every year, the number of families ruined by alcoholism in this country, to say pot is no worse isn't saying much.

    January 19, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. Namealan

    Once again, Barry is wrong. Pot is much safer and much less dangerous on the body then alcohol. Alcohol kills 260k people a year and just destroys the body. Pot might create long term problems on the body but I'm sure it is less damaging then popping aspirin for headaches, three times a week

    January 19, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  15. Tampa Tim

    Mike C has to be the program director for Sean Hannity. Talk about reality challenged.

    January 19, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  16. NCBernz

    What Obama is saying is;

    1) The Administration is going to put all their efforts into prosecuting the individuals in states where it is not legal.

    2) They are not interested in removing it from the list of Schedule 1 substances

    3) They will continue to see this as a dangerous drug, not unlike alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. indynj

    For those that don't know, things have changed. Pot is not what it was in the 60s and 70s. Then, you could smoke a joint and get buzzed. The post that is out there now, you take one hit and you are smashed. For any boomers that think we are talking about the same thing we new as teens and young adults, it is jut not the same.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. Daryl

    The drug war is lost! Legalization will only spread across the country.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. vikingwoman

    I'd like to refer the President & the Federal Gov. to what they've done, successfully, in Portugal & many other nations! Decrimilization of all so called 'illegal substances' & let's face it; there's blatant, widespread abuse of prescribed drugs as well! What's happened is more space in jails for real criminals, less drug abuse, more ex-abusers & more awareness of the disease of addiction! Our system is pretty archaic in comparison! Legalization of weed is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go to erradicate the 'war on drugs' mindset!!

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. ST

    Anything which disturbs the brain, should never be encouraged. As human nature, never know their limit. What kind of a nation will be, having its people depending on substances.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. DinB

    Managed, medicinal use aside, I find it hard to side with legalizing for recreational use. If it's legal, more people will obviously become users. Will that make our society better? The whole comparison to alcohol to me is moot unless you're replacing one with the other.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  22. K. A.

    If you truly believe that Mr. President, legalize it already.

    January 19, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. Rob

    We brew poison (alcohol), big pharma pushes opiates and a plant is still illegal. Ha

    January 19, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @TiredofSilly1: What is it about President Obama saying “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.” that you don't get?

    And where in the article did he say we should legalize cocaine? And speaking of coke, how do you feel about Freshman Congressman Trey Radel (R-Florida) who is the first sitting U.S. representative to be convicted for a cocaine offense?

    Or GW? He has been dogged for YEARS about alleged cocaine use when he was young. He's never definitely denied it; instead he has said things like "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."

    Folks who live in glass houses, Bub ...

    January 19, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  25. indynj

    Wish we could edit our typos after posting (i.e. post v. pot and new v. knew).

    January 19, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
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