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. wenotyou

    The Veterans Administration has approved medical marijauna use for veterans where its legal. Time for everyone else to get on board.

    January 20, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  2. Ted Browning

    Gag! Throw up! That's what I think of good old prez and his opinions. So he disobeyed the law and he didn't get thrown in jail? Phooey. We might have been saved from his destruction of this great nation.

    January 20, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  3. Janet Glazier

    President Obama is Right.
    I know of a friend who has been a chronic smoker for over 40 years. It has Never affected his job. As a matter of fact he has been commended for his Outstanding Work Performance & Attendance.. However, now that he is unemployed, he can't get a job because he can't pass the P test. Their loss. I hope that it becomes legal soon because there are a lot of Employers out there that would Benefit from Many Qualified people if they would give them a chance. They should be judged on their Performance, Not a P Test!

    January 20, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  4. anthony handford

    I'm very much ok with the other drugs out there never tried or even plan on ever trying them if that's what you think you want to put in your body then go ahead and die. you have never heard of anyone dying off smoking pot. But you have heard of that with cocaine and meth many times. you can put a bud of pot out of the ground, dry it, break it down, get you a blunt wrap or bong and light it up. Only thing that's going to happen is you going to get sleep, happy and hungry. So do you thing cocaine or meth does the same I don't think they do. I think every state should allow people to enjoy life and smoke it up. It would make America a happier place to live. Having a bad day at work go to you car fire one up get a mcdouble small fry and large sweet tea and see how much better you day will be.

    January 20, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  5. TheTruth

    First pot then cocain/heroine then designer drugs or meth. Only way is to stop them all including the gateway drug.

    January 20, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  6. Michaell, Chapel Hill

    Still I am doubtful about his approval ratings.

    January 20, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  7. Mike Parent

    Does anyone honestly believe that wasting $20 Billion and arresting 3/4 Million Americans annually for choosing a substance Scientifically proven to be safer than what the govt allows, is a sound policy?

    "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

    January 20, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  8. zazen

    America is supposed to be all about Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness. Well, a bad car accident later and I am wracked with pain 24/7. I still work like a dog, but the only relief I get from the pain comes in the form of various Opiates the established medical community is more than happy to provide me because they get wined & dined by the pharma companies that make them.

    I would much rather my Life, liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness, which only comes when my pain is controlled, be through marijuana rather than highly addictive prescription pain killers....But, nope, marijuana remains Schedule I (no re-deeming value whatsover to society)...What a total crock of camel poo.

    January 20, 2014 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  9. R Burkey

    When is anyone going to consider Secondhand smoke effects on young children who live in a pot smoker's home??

    January 20, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  10. Name

    Pot smoking is not too bad,legalize it anyway!!!!

    January 20, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  11. J. Seychel

    HaHa, Cannabis is a herb, the healing herb, spoken of in the bible. It's been around for ever, much longer then we have been, or monkeys, maybe even back when giant dinosaurs roamed. Who knows, but most animals have cannabis receptors, and have been found in all animals tested so far. Which means all Earthlings have been using it or eating it sense the beginning of time here on Earth, or simply these receptors would not have evolved with them, or us. Alcohol, number one drug that kills, and it destroys lives of others they have yet to know. I worked in the field of addiction, and have found Cannabis is not, I said IS NOT, a gateway drug, it is an illegal drug. There for if one's choice was Cannabis to use as a tool to relieve stress like people do with alcohol, and there is none to be found, then they will go to the next thing, which is a menu of choices...

    January 20, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  12. Wd.jones

    Yes for Obama. If nothing else through out this mans existence, thank god he is taking this stand. Pot has been around longer than dirt. No one is dead. We need let the poor men and women in prison out. State saving money on the "War on Drugs". Let all get over this.

    January 20, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  13. Ronny Gidlund

    Barry needs to give an executive order that the entire world must obey his every wish!

    January 20, 2014 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  14. willhaas

    Our President does not know what he is talking about. For example it was the President who said that under the ACA if you liked your plan your could keep your plan, PERIOD He has no credibility. Alcohol is a very dangerous substance. For example, a sister-in -law fo my brother's died because of it and she did not even drink. That is all we need is more people using dangerous substances so as to reduce the excess population. I thought that a major thrust of the ACA is to get more people to follow a more healthy life style.

    January 20, 2014 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  15. J. Seychel

    Out of all the drugs out there now, and I had to make a choice which one my child could use, it would be Cannabis hands down, with no doubts. There is no way my child will be taking pills for being a boy, or what ever the case maybe. I don't trust Big Pharmacy, Monsanto, Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, or any corporation that has been labeled to big to fail, or have lied to profit, or has targeted children to use their products they know are addictive and deadly.... Cannabis was targeted for no real reason, just hearsay, paranoia, and gain of profit. The safest and effective substance known to man was criminalized for profit, and not just the profit of one, but of many corporations. Cannabis will never go away no matter how many guns are aimed at it.

    January 20, 2014 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  16. Jim

    In one sense marijuana is worse than alcohol or cigarettes – it causes greater lung damage due to burning hotter. If legalized make it edible, patch, pill, etc. – don't smoke it.

    Even if legal, sometimes "vices" have less regulation than other agricultural products. Tobacco is radioactive due to the use of Po-210 fertilizer banned in growing lettuce, etc. The government sprayed paraquat, a herbicide linked to Parkinson's, on marijuana fields.

    Trying to prohibit Marijuana is like trying to prohibit alcohol. But it is estimated its usage is 40 times all other hard drugs (cocaine, crack, heroin, meth, etc.) combined. Opening the gate to marijuana likely will NOT be a slippery slope to legalizing harder drugs.

    Make marijuana legal, but pay attention to safety.

    January 20, 2014 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  17. clg

    Alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana. Legalization isn't the issue. Most countries treat drug use as a misdemeanor. They don't ruin people's lives by throwing people in jail for possession. The war on drugs is the real crime. Obama could end the drug war now without legalizing marijuana, but he won't.

    January 20, 2014 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  18. Fred Evil

    "simplyput
    Pot hit the high school campuses in the 1960's and disturbed more than a few young lives. Most of the people I know that still smoke are border-line mentally ill."
    Just ridiculous lies, how pathetic!

    January 20, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  19. Now And Then

    I agree. However, I do agree with the notion that someone drawing welfare should have to be tested to get benefits. Only because I feel if they can afford alcohol and marajuana they can afford food and clothes for their children. As for someone giving them the alcohol and drugs, if they can give them that they should be willing to give them money for food and clothes for their children.

    January 20, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  20. BillyJohn42

    Being 17 year pot smoker with NO criminal record, beside marihuana poss and paraphernalia, this topic drives me NUTS! You would be so lucky as to have me drive you and YOUR kids around town, babysit them, heck even teach them, as I consider myself a very informed and intelligent member if society. Alcohol vs. Weed? I have so much to say on this subject, but I am taking care if my 2 and 4 year old. Think about this.....at least you parents can go to bed knowing it's not gonna be me who kills your kids driving high, which I do everyday and will continue to, it's gonna be one of your DRUNK buddies you hang with and knock a few back with.

    January 20, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  21. Gary Sheets Jr.

    So why do we still get messed with in Va? They advertise and exploit America being; "An Army Of One" or "One Nation". But we certainly are not. We are divided by laws. Its not right.

    January 20, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  22. phil box

    i guess this "bit of reality" comes from a research paper berry published in those mystery days from his past?

    January 20, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    It's a plant–legislate a plant? It is not addictive. My sister and brother went to Betty Ford for Vicodin and alcohol, respectively. Both LEGAL!! Let it go..It's my medicine, whether it's legal or not I have a license for it, of course. I used pills first, after my tooth was extracted. Made me sick and didn't work. Then I imbibed, and voila! Have you all seen the commercials? With the side effects, one mile long–possibilities of headache, stroke, anal leakage. I've used it for years, off and on, and I never incurred even close to those horrible side effects. It's not right or fair. Leave the money out and do the right thing. So many children and adults are being cured from the liquid of the cannabis alone. We've seen on t.v. I've read articles where the servicemen were given marijuana for an ailment, but they can't use it!! $ MILLIONS of dollars less, for the costs of arresting people. $Millions of dollar MORE revenue, billions, to pay off the National Debt. Millions of people would be working!!! Some in office, some in field, some as medicinal representatives. Clothing can be made. Inexpensive lotions and oils. Do you now the ship sails, clothing that is used to make hemp now? Sure, you control it–by age usage, never driving on it, as with liquor. Give the power back to folks, so they can heal themselves! Peace

    January 20, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  24. Judie Swan

    If anyone agrees with this, I would invite you to meet my 51 year old daughter who was beautiful, smart, funny in her youth, but now is on disability because of physical problems, memory loss, etc. If pot is no worse than alcohol, why do we need another drug? Pot is a gateway drug....I have seen the damages it does for the past 35 years. My ex-husband was almost killed in a auto accident because the other driver was high. We do not need another high on our roads. Pot ruins lives just as alcohol does....

    January 20, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  25. Ginger

    Having smoked pot as a teen, I see no reason why this is a criminal activity. Hopefully these laws will fall by the wayside and the police force can focus on real crimes.

    January 20, 2014 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
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