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. real talk

    @Earthworm that is the most delusional argument I have every heard. It's safer then alcohol and a chance of you getting violent and wanting to rob someone or slim to nil..

    You are correct we should legalize the hard stuff. The government is no put nanny or guardian they have no right to tell us what we can or can not put in our bodys. The drug war has failed miserably anyone who wants to do drugs will do them regardless of it being legal or illegal. The problem with it being illegal is that cartels from Mexico make half of their profits from marijuana... If you take 50% of their business then I think we have done a great thing.

    January 19, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. Dina

    Actually, he's wrong. Alcohol has caused more death and destruction since LAST NIGHT, than marijuana has caused in its entire history.

    January 19, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. karl from az

    He should know! BTW, he should throw in 'coke' also since he has experience with it!

    January 19, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. Shadd H.

    Actually the reason they get locked up here isn't because they have little amounts on their posession,.. they have larger, drug dealer amounts. 3 times with minimal amounts is misdermeanor fines anything more results in jail time,.. kind of like the exact same thing that happens when a person gets an oui/dwi. There is no excuses to be carrying around pounds of the garbage and complaining that you should be set free. If you are not licensed to carry that amount,.. simply dont.

    January 19, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. Miles Monroe

    Since he has the authority to reschedule cannabis to a more justifiable catagory–or remove it from the CSA list entirely, like alcohol or tobacco–this admission will put a lot more pressure on him, and members of Congress (see Harry Reid's similar comments earlier this week) to do so … Is this a trial balloon telegraphing a true policy shift, like Biden's support for same sex marriage?

    January 19, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Denver Dave

    Wow. This is amazing at the amount of ignorance on this comment board. 1st of all, this isn't the 1970's the only way to use marijuana isn't by rolling up a fatty and clouding up the room. In fact most medical patients rarely smoke or use a form of marijuana that is smokable.Instead they use thc drops, salves, candies, etc. Constitutionally speaking the federal government has no right to regulate what citizens do and do not consume. There are over 2.5 million alcohol related deaths annually in the World!!!!! There are 0 (ZERO) deaths EVER due to marijuana consumption. I for one am thrilled at what Medical Marijuana has done for CO for the 3rd year in a row we are operating at a surplus. After this year's legalization of recreational marijuana (which by the way is taxed at nearly 30% and created over $300K revenue on day 1) CO will be in the position to start bailing out other failing states. Someone please call God....the president of america just said that American's deserve more freedom and people have a problem with that? I have a feeling that the people that have a problem with this are 1. The same people drinking every night of the week. 2. The same people that think their religious text should have some type of bearing on the legalization of abortion (ie someone who didn't quite understand the part in the constitution about an explicit separation of church and state) 3. An ignorant person that is blind to the facts! The "war on drugs" has failed, if you believe it has not....please send me $100 to invest in a great company, they had a little rough time but i think enron is going to bounce back thats what the war on drugs is equivalent to. Prohibition of Alcohol was what gave organized crime a stronghold in america, yet most of this country wants to prohibit marijuana while foreign cartels move into their cities. Legalization of Marijuana is about 1. Rights 2. Safety 3. Revenue, honestly who has a problem with that?

    January 19, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  7. RandyF

    Alcohol is much more dangerous than pot. It's just the science of it.

    January 19, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  8. Daniel

    Dear Earthworm,

    MaryJane..keeps you calm, relaxed and happy. No one smokes pot and "robs" people, that's an old wives tale.

    Speaking on behalf of Canadians pot should be legalized and taxed as an elastic good so the governments of North American can help pay the massive Debt that is currently sinking the United States of America.

    January 19, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. JimboCombo

    This guy just gets better and better... Gateway Drug Mr. Obama. Hello.

    January 19, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. CONNIE

    DON'T BE STUPID MR. PRESIDENT... Quite the opposite... if you take this off the Schedule 1 classification.. and end it's prohibition.. It is a WIN~WIN for the federal Gov. and the United State(s) of America!! STOP CLASSIFYING IT AS USELESS AND HARMFUL.. I ASSURE YOU IT IS INVALUABLE TO OUR finances and funding!!

    January 19, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Denver Dave

    Not to mention to all you bible thumpers out there..... If one reads through the Bible in the section where Christ's body is being anointed. You will probably be surprised there is a strong case and very widely believed that Cannabis was one of the herbs used to anoint his body.

    January 19, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Actually Methamphetamine/Cocaine are Schedule 2 drugs and can be prescribed; so yes, Obama

    January 19, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  13. QA

    Do we really need a President confirming he smoked pot? Now all the kids will be trying it,if you can do it and still become the President. Wait I know whats wrong with just trying it? Well the more people that try it and with his statement,now more kids will be hooked. maybe the pot did effect this buffoon !

    January 19, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. Ruby

    Much like any other activity that has potential for harm: Rather than ban use, pursue and prosecute those that misuse and abuse. Alcohol and auto driving are regulated, taxed, licensed to the eyeballs, but not banned. Prohibition is one ignominious example of trying to prevent people from doing what is enjoyable. Another example are some sports which are dangerous, but will never be eliminated. Maybe made safer, but the risk of harm will always be there. Regulate marijuana and get the tax revenue. It will also make a dent in the drug cartels that have been growing and selling in the USA. But prosecute the law breakers rigorously .

    January 19, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  15. merle mcclung

    The President is right. Have you ever heard of someone dying from a pot overdose or prolonged pot usage? Of course not. Yet, I watched my 40-year-old brother die from cirrohsis. They're both poisons, but one is legal. Go figure.

    January 19, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  16. Name

    People who don't support the legalizing weed need to wake up . This is supposed to be a free country run by the people for the people . put it up for a national vote if it passes then it should be legal. if u don't like pot then u don't have to use it but for people who do the benefits out way any prescription drug. o but Dr make money gettin people hooked on prescriptions. wake up u haters .

    January 19, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. JimboCombo

    So agree Earthworm.

    January 19, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    marijuana is not a drug....it is a plant. Created by God and given to us for our needs (Gen chapter 1). A drug has added chemicals, and/or has been altered from it's natural state. I for one wish they would legalize it, I can't take even a Tylenol because they knock me out. With marijuana I can function with my pain because it takes the edge off. I would much rather smoke than get hooked on pain pills, or muscle relaxers, any day!

    January 19, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. Tim DeZolt

    Says the guy who got high in Hawaii.

    January 19, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  20. Howard

    not true. Alcohol is far worse than weed.

    January 19, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. raforrester

    Pot is bad for you, but the effects of the drug war are worse. Drugs are the handy dandy excuse for all kinds of governmental abuse. Then there's having a black market and letting the gangs and drug cartels make all that money off it, and having a drug war just across the border. Then there are the drive-by shootings, the fact that the best place to buy pot is our local high school, You'd think we would have learned from prohibition. After all that's the reason alcohol is legal and will stay legal, even though it has far worse effects on families.There are millions of children who run and hide when daddy or mommy picks up the bottle. At least pot does not make people violent.

    January 19, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. walter wood

    Thank you, Mr.President.

    January 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. faux scandals

    Alcohol is old money, that's why it can't be touched.

    January 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  24. nik

    Might as well legalize all the products, let the American society get doped up all the time and let the opponent take us over completely in the 4th quarter. That is what will be happening in the next ten years or less.
    I think Obama and most of Congress is already on something because of the way they run the country. You can see from the crazy laws of recent their minds are not functioning even at 50%.
    I live here in a large city and you smell pot all the time near corner stores, park areas, and parking lots of major malls. Its already out of control and now its no stopping it. Americans always abuse a good law as the norm so why not all the hard stuff?
    Heck I might just go out here, get doped up, beat up and rob someone and then go off to jail and live off the taxpayer, claim insanity, and when I get out of jail live off the govt. for the rest of my life because my mind is wasted. Hey that is the NEW American Dream.

    we are already over doped on scripts your fear is mislead you have nothing to fear but fear itself...

    January 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  25. Perry Moore

    Marijuana should be legalized simply because it is not nearly as dangerous as alcohol. You want to compare marijuana to cocaine or meth which both can kill you outright and marijuana won't. So if you don't feel pot should be legalized then remove alcohol because as you say Mr. Obama it's much more dangerous. I don't like having to be forced to indulge in alcohol which causes me to beat the living hell out of my family members and very mad for some crazy reason. On the other hand when smoking pot every one loves me and I love everyone around me. Which one do you recommend I partake from cause I will do one or the other.

    January 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
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