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. Tampa Tim

    Baggers who read posts are a rarity. They have difficulty trying to read the headline, and comprehension is not their strong suit.

    January 19, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  2. christophorm

    correct they are both poison and mind/life altering drugs that become a bondage.

    .

    January 19, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  3. Richard

    The U.S. should stop electing drug users. Look what's it done for your country.

    January 19, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  4. Teresa

    Thanks to the president, my daughter has one more reason to argue why pot is ok for her to be smoking. I have seen the effects of it in her, friends, and other family members. This drug is NOT any worse. Alcohol gives you a hangover wich makes you stop and think about doing it again. Weed has draw backs that the smoker isn't aware of because they don't see the no motivation, laziness, slowed thinking process. And the toll on apperance.

    January 19, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. MiBigAl

    You can't legislate morality. Many have tried it is always not only fails but creates many more serious side effects like the rise of organized crime due to alcohol prohibition. But think of how many lawyers would have their practices collapse and how many vacant prison cells would be freed up if we stopped incarcerating people for cannibus possession and started collecting taxes instead.

    January 19, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  6. Edston

    Now there's a president hell-bent on destroying the country with statements like that. WOW.

    January 19, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. vikingwoman

    Correction: Decriminalization! I can spell on occasion!:)

    January 19, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  8. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @mike: "I think his angle is to ban alcohol and not legalize pot. Obama's goal is to have the government control every citizens move."

    You forgot to take your meds again, mike ...

    January 19, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  9. bspurloc

    just funny reading the nutcases claiming this is something else....
    U know like to get everyone happy so u can take their guns!

    January 19, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Wife of cancer patient

    Being the wife of a stage four cancer patient and living in Georgia, we have no access to medical pot. He regularly has to smoke it to be able to eat and manage his pain (bone cancer). I'm am in favor of legalizing pot for personal use and yes, to grow your own as long it is not sold. Look at CO, amazing the revenue that it is generating and not only revenue the jobs that it is creating. Good grief people, especially those that have never smoked it, it's FAR more safe than alcohol and far less impairing than alcohol. THe big pharma and alcohol companies are against the legalization because it would cut deep into their pockets. Don't condemn it if you have never tried it. It's a personal choice!

    January 19, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  11. Its legally in his power to change it

    Unlike his unilateral rewriting of the ACA, he actually DOES have the legal power to change what schedule a drug is on, as that is an administrative, not a legislative prerogative. S, the question is: given his belief, and hos other choices to do whatever suits him, why isn't he changing the schedule for Marijuana?

    January 19, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. aj

    legalize it.

    January 19, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @Mike C: "Hey kids. President Obama just said that it is OK to do drugs."

    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?

    January 19, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  14. jerrylax

    good call obama….apparently you'd like to continue to dumb down the voters….how about just keeping your big mouth shut? Haven't you cause enough division in this country…absolutely horrific comment for a president to make!

    January 19, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  15. are122

    I wonder why drugs like alcohol and marijuana that stone you or knock you out are legal while drugs like dextroamphtamine / Aderall are strictly controlled. LOL, maybe yer less of a threat to politicians if you don't know what's going on.

    January 19, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  16. JeniW

    Comparing marijuana to alcohol is a poor way of rationalizing/justifying the use of marijuana. They are both drugs. To condone and encourage the use of either or both, without effective ways to deal with the problems related to both is reckless. I grew up among people who developed liver disease as the result of consuming alcohol, and I have seen "potheads," neither are pretty sights.

    January 19, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  17. kennygdf

    This, from our president? Little wonder that our nation has denagraded so much. Alcoholic beverages can lead to mental inparment but not its sole purpose, though pot does, the purpose of it.

    January 19, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  18. KJ9

    Obama is smart on this one .You still can't get the 70 plus old crowd to admit it. They will sit there and talk about how pot users are junkies all the while drinking their fourth scotch this morning. No matter how high you get smoking pot the high will only last 30 minutes. If your drunk it will last for hours. Now you tell me what is worse

    January 19, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  19. Anirtak

    Of course all the potheads will instantly be in agreement with Dr. Obama on this. In my opinion, pot IS more dangerous to the innocent bystander. You walk into a room of people drinking and there is no effect on you physically. You walk into a room of people smoking pot and you're inhaling their second hand smoke. Whether or not it's as dangerous as cigarette smoke is irrelevant to the person who'd rather NOT be inhaling it. You want to smoke pot, be my guest, but PLEASE do it behind closed doors where I don't have to smell it.

    January 19, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  20. JG

    POTUS, reaching across the aisle.... with a doobie.

    January 19, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  21. Thinking Clearly

    “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?”

    Yes. We give amphetamines to kids to cure their ADHD. Its called Adderal.

    January 19, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  22. Trist

    Pot must be legalized. There's no two ways about it. One commenter above was right in saying that different drugs call for different handling of them; that is very true. I don't see pot and alcohol as bad if they are used responsibly. Pot is easy to use responsibly because it doesn't affect judgement as much as alcohol does. Alcohol often contributes to deaths, when used irresponsibly. Pot, I don't believe ever does. Cigarettes kill, and yet they are legal.

    January 19, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  23. Wilson BenWa

    The Dope-In-Chief.

    January 19, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  24. MelissaB

    Perhaps our president wasn't informed of the study reported several weeks ago by CNN and other major outlets of links between heavy marijauna use in teens to schizophrenia like symptoms. More studies need to be done before opinions as weighty as Obama's are thrown around so casually; perhaps the rash of psychotic behavior, school shootings, etc, by teens in the recent years could have a genuine link to early marijauna use.

    January 19, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  25. Greg

    The problem is the loss of the fear of substance use.

    There is no safe drug use, if it lowers your fear of further drug use.

    This is why we designate certain persons (i.e. doctors) to guide our use of powerful substances.

    Because it affects the mind, and our decision making process, it is not safe to go on our own judgement.

    This is also why social drinking contains a safeguard, you are surrounded by people who care about you
    and are looking out that you don't drink too much.

    January 19, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
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