January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
6 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. AndromedaCross

    Marijuana isn't a drug, its natural straight from the ground, an herb. A drug is a chemical which needs to be refined like pharmaceuticals.

    January 19, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  2. hatchetgames

    As a member of the right, i agree with obama. (but only this time lol)

    January 19, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  3. Otis Bargallo

    What does he mean it's not different??? Drinking can be social – you can have one drink and be ok...the point of smoking weed is to get high...Is that the same????

    January 19, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  4. okram2k

    Alcohol has resulted in faaaaaaaar more deaths than marijuana. Really isn't it time to end the 50 year old war on hippies?

    January 19, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  5. Greenspam

    Now, Republicans will have to attack Obama on this.

    January 19, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  6. lee1

    they say that using pot is just a phase. hopefully in 2 years the Obama phase will go away, the smoke will clear and America can see blue sky and values for what this country stands for.

    January 19, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  7. EntilZha

    About time a President admitted this. Also about time we ended the idiotic, pointless "war on drugs" that has resulted in nothing constructive in its 30 years of operation...unless you count degraded civil liberties, intrusive police activity, prisons filled with non-violent offenders, and rich private prison companies. You'd think the US would have learned something from Prohibition, which resulted only in higher crime and people dying from poisoned bathtub gin.

    January 19, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  8. DJ

    That is correct, Mr President.

    January 19, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  9. ColdIronsBounnd

    That's great, Obama. Now please stop your drone warfare.

    January 19, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. Common Sense Monkey

    People also say it's a gateway drug. That's because you have to go to a drug dealer to get it. If Skittles were illegal and youhad to go to a dealer to taste the rainbow, it would be a gateway drug too. Buyer: Got my Skittles? Dealer: No, but I got some pills that look like Skittles and I have some ecstasy called Skittles. Buyer: Hmm, ok.

    January 19, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  11. KR

    I think cannabis should be legalized in all states and taxed heavily in order to fund much needed infrastructure repairs as well as the development of new roads and bridges.

    January 19, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  12. Freedom

    Just pay for my room and board and pass the dutchie to the left hand side. Why would anyone want to work in this country anymore. I will continue to vote democrat as long as I can. It is in the best interest of me. This is the new american dream!

    January 19, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  13. raforrester

    Pot may be bad for you, but the drug war is worse for the US. It is like being allergic to something, where the allergic reaction is worse than the thing you are allergic to. Prohibition showed us what happens when you prohibit something that is widely popular.

    Obama is right that alcohol is worse. Pot does not make you violent, but there are millions of children who run and hide when a parent comes home drunk.

    January 19, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  14. nonyabidnes2

    Come to where we are giving new meaning to the term "Mile High".

    January 19, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  15. JK

    Just wait until an impaired pothead gets off after crashing into a school bus and killing 15 children. There is currently no way to measure level of intoxication for THC. Hmmmm, maybe someone should have developed that before rushing to legalize weed.

    January 19, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  16. Bill

    This, coming from a known pot smoker. Hey Barry, they don't call it DOPE for no reason!

    January 19, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  17. tommythet

    don't forget Mr Obama, all the time you did crack as well and how your last two years of High School were just a drug/alcohol induced dazed.

    Probably like a lot of your time at Harvard.

    January 19, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  18. None of it should be ok

    Any kind of smoke in the lungs is bad... right?! HTC levels? It's just wrong in my opinion cuz I have personally seen what Marijuana, Smoking, Alcohol, and Prescription drugs has done to family and friends. It's just SAD.
    Who's making money off these dangerous addictive things that all should be illegal to some degree.

    Hearing President Obama make any kind of statement suggesting these are not worse than the other is a huge disappointment. We need a new leader ASAP!

    If it's legalized we will see parents smoking with their children/toddlers because it will be legal, teachers smoking, car accidents, and so mush more negative things that I don't have time to list. I know that cigarette smoke is disgusting and I don't like being on the streets and being bothered by smoke. IT'S HARMFUL and addictive so why allow it to KILL people!

    I do agree with it to help people medically.... but should be done properly and at clinics, hospitals or as prescription with strict guidelines.

    What happens to the drug lords if we legalize marijuana? Do they take more control on Marijuana or lose it?

    Does anyone really care about America anymore? Anyone willing to make America a better place by changing our government?

    January 19, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  19. ChrisPro11

    This is a good message. Cannabis is not more harmful than alcohol. It is time for society to focus on the science rather than the propaganda in the failed drug war. Many people are in need of Cannabis because of its medicinal properties.

    There is a revolution happening and i think it will have a positive impact nation wide. Jailing people for smoking a plant is hypocritical in a nation built on fundamental human rights. Science proves cannabis is a medicinal plant and not a degenerative drug substance like alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  20. C.C.Coats

    I think we are missing the point here. Decriminalizing Marijuana doesn't only make sense for medicinal reasons but also for economic reasons. The states are spending precious resources incarcerating and prosecuting pot users when they should be focused on dealing with more serious offenders. Marijuana users are not worried about robbing liquor stores and assaulting people. They are curled up on the couch with a burrito, two snickers bars and a party-size bag of Atomic Cheetos. I don't understand why Americans think it's ok to get drunk and stupid. Why do we glorify drunkenness and demonize pot smoking? In the 60's pot smoking was not considered an alarming activity until Nixon launched the whole "War on Drugs" which was really catapulted in the Reagan administration. Point is inherently there is more wrong with drinking than Marijuana use and we need understand that politicians will use any platform to gain constituents Don't be a pawn...be a player.

    January 19, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  21. Marko Polo

    Come on Barrack. A calibrated dose of cocaine or meth? You are stretching your ideology a bit. Something should be done on the federal level to conform with our new cultural norms. At minimum, marijuana should not be considered a schedule 1 controlled substance.

    January 19, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  22. Paiste2oo2

    Now there's good leadership by example! Wow, I can't even believe he said that!

    January 19, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  23. Kuron

    One way to save the taxpayers a lot of money is to end this costly war on drugs that makes criminals out of casual users of "a drug "no more dangerous than alcohol." This war has made otherwise good citizens unemployable because of their criminal record and we also have to pay for their incarceration and cost billions. States should have the right to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use if they so choose and the feds should stay out of it!

    January 19, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  24. Science levels the discussion on Pot

    If people are going to judge Pot by it's potential evils, then they have to weigh all the variables in the decision process.

    Yes Pot can be harmful, especially to teens. Their brain is still physically developing and our kids will need all the brain power they can get to be competitive in the global market. That being said they shouldn't drink at all either, alcohol does far more damage to the brain and is much more addictive.

    Pot IS safe when used through a vaporizer, which extracts 99% of the harmful tar and carcinogens out... You can't do that with alcohol.

    So yes, Pot can be harmful at certain ages and when not smoked correctly... But let's be honest about the terms

    January 19, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  25. blakenaustin

    Wrong again moron. More nonsense from the far left. Can you drink without getting drunk? YES. Can you smoke dope without getting stoned? NO.

    January 19, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
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