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. lee1

    time for commander in chief Obama to get his random pee test. welcome to the military or does he believe in double standards.

    January 20, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    I am 61 and smoked for 40 years-raised two beautiful kids and have 4 wonderful and healthy grandsons> I quit because of drug testing and it was easy. I feel sorry for all you intellects who think you know everything–all Republicans I assume–since you think you know everything and everyone is a jerk but you. Alcohol is the biggest problem in our society and you cannot compare the two. I never blacked out on pot. A couple of hits a week to relax the soul is not going to kill anyone. I use to get serious migrane headaches and have not had one since I stared smoking. Get a grip folks–you are so wrong. Time to legalize.

    January 20, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  3. mara

    Mr Obama Im agree with your comment alcohol is very dangerous for life lots of accidents and people died drinking and there no one single person who died for smoke marihuana legalized its a plant God send it to us

    January 20, 2014 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  4. SaraD

    I really dislike this president.

    January 20, 2014 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  5. Big Ben

    There were a lot more alcoholics during prohibition than after they made it legal. Maybe everyone should be responsible for himself.

    January 20, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  6. Mad Dog Mike

    President Ronald Reagan would disagree. In 1983 his "Zero Tolerance" policy was put into practice with experimental testing of bodily fluids combined with "Administrative Action". Over the years laws were dialed in and a generation grew up thinking it's OK to violate peoples privacy in medical ways. I like to say "Ronald Reagan taught Me Right from Wrong." .. Zero Tolerance is still the law of the land but there seems to be a 'Wind of Change' blowing ...

    January 20, 2014 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  7. Anita

    That is not the most intelligent response from a U.S. president. Is he saying it is O.K. to be a "pothead"? Why doesn't he just tel us his real motive for this response? I'm sure it isn't good.

    January 20, 2014 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  8. DarkPoet

    Lets be honest here... that "Miami Zombie" that was blamed on Bath Salts didn't ingest Bath Salts.. the only thing they found was WEED... now what that WEED was laced with who knows, but to say WEED isn't dangerous is a bold faced lie. To SOME small amount of people it is dangerous.

    January 20, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  9. Roger

    It's funny. Janet Glazier comment her friend who smoked pot for 40 years and it had no effect on his performance. Then she states he is unemployed and can't get a job. I think it did effect him or he would still have a job. Oh, and no one has ever given me a P test for a job, I wonder why?

    January 20, 2014 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    Responsible Parents tell there kids not to use drugs or alcohol and what happens the loser in the white house tells them don't listen to your parents,. drugs are cool go ahead an use them your parents do not know what they are saying. How low can Obama go???

    January 20, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  11. Devin

    Far less dangerous

    January 20, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  12. agnar150

    Finally a smart president.

    January 20, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  13. Tim686

    Actually, the truth is that alcohol is way more dangerous than weed.

    January 20, 2014 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  14. agnar150

    This guys says that if you smoke pot you get angry and beat up and rob people LOL. The last thing you want to do after smoking is to beat up and rob people. The ignorance surrounding this is crazy. You can pick out the people who have never tried it before super easy.

    January 20, 2014 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  15. Paul H

    Yes I agree! Cannabis is less dangerous than peanuts, let along alcohol !

    January 20, 2014 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  16. Santos

    Legalization of pot=destruction of youth=destruction of a nation

    January 20, 2014 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  17. Mkc

    Executive order to follow.

    January 21, 2014 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  18. El Gato

    Hey, folks, smoking weed is still smoking. Smoke of any kind contains harmful ingredients, tars, CO, etc. Get high on life!

    January 21, 2014 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  19. chrissy

    Potheads arent as obnoxious as drunks thats for sure. So i guess i would have to agree with him.

    January 21, 2014 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  20. The Liberal Perspective

    My dad was killed by some punk kid who decided to get high and drive home after a party. Thanks Obama.

    January 21, 2014 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  21. kalikim

    "the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem." america has a big pproblem and its called drugs and alcohol. I'm a former alcoholic and i new plenty of friends and associates who wasted away their lives on any combo of alcohol, pot, meth, heroine, cocaine, etc. Maybe weed has some medical uses...great then let your doctor decide that. My ex husband become a weed and meth junkie after being on a morphine pump during cancer surgeries. He ended up dying of a morphine overdose. If you cannot cope with life then see a therapist.

    January 21, 2014 02:04 am at 2:04 am |
  22. Thomas Baxter

    If that us te way he feels then why doesn,t he pardon all those in prison for marijuana crimes and end the federal drug war against marijuana. This chicken poop statement on MKL day should be viewed as weak, cowardly and unAmerican especially by an African American on MLK day while millions of African Americans and others are in prison serving severer sentences while he makes light of the severity of the seriousness of the drugs consequences In direct contrast to the Federal penalties.

    January 21, 2014 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  23. Chris

    Janet that's one out of several cases

    January 21, 2014 04:12 am at 4:12 am |
  24. ItSoNlYmE

    The President is absolutely correct. In fact, there's ample evidence that pot is less harmful than alcohol on several levels.

    January 21, 2014 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  25. Anonymous

    There was a time when coffee was illegal and the penalties were quite stiff. When I was younger many folks were taking Dexedrine ( a diet pill). In the military 1961 to 1965 because we had to work long hours the doctors would give us big bottles of prescription speed. Many years ago I warned if the government can tell us what we can and can not put into our bodies then they would sooner or later tell us what we must put in our bodies. Here comes Ritalin, Forced down the throats of millions of school children in the US creating millions of future meth users. There are enough laws governing peoples behavior. The government has a mandate to protect us from outside invasion but not from ourselves. Keep your laws off my body.Younger people are smoking more pot they tell us. What they don't want to tell you is that less are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Maybe we are smart enough to make our own decisions.

    January 21, 2014 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
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