(CNN) - The nation's chief law enforcement officer said Wednesday that any drug, including alcohol, "is potentially harmful." Attorney General Eric Holder comments follow an interview where the commander in chief appeared to express a more lenient view of smoking marijuana.
Holder was asked on Capitol Hill if he agreed with the President's sentiments on marijuana use, published in an interview with the New Yorker, where he said the smoking pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer," and that overall, the drug didn't carry the social stigma that it did in the past
Sen. Jeff Sessions pressed Holder if he supported the President's assessment on the relative dangers marijuana use, specifically compared to alcohol.
"It's difficult for me to conceive how the President of the United States could make such a statement," the Alabama Republican said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, later pointing to public figures like pop star Lady Gaga and former congressman Patrick Kennedy who have come out against the idea that marijuana use is harmless.
In the interview, Obama noted that he used pot as a kid, and sees smoking marijuana as a "bad habit and vice," differing little from smoking cigarettes, which he said he did into adulthood. The White House has said that Obama remains opposed to a nationwide decriminalization of marijuana.
Holder, who said the President did not consult him prior to the interview, told the committee that he believes "the use of any drug is potentially harmful and included in that would be alcohol."
"I think that any drug used in an inappropriate way can be harmful. And alcohol is among those," he said.
Federal law still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 controlled substance – a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use. White House spokesman from the office of national drug control policy, Rafael Lemaitre, said Holder can remove marijuana from this classification after an independent scientific review. But Holder told CNN Justice Reporter Evan Perez that his preference was for Congress to act.
Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use, and 18 other states as well as the District of Columbia allow some form of legal use of the drug.
The federal government said it would not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana, and at Wednesday's hearing, the Attorney General underscored throughout the questioning that federal enforcement efforts would focus on preventing marijuana use in minors.
Holder also said recently that local business selling marijuana should have access to the American banking system, and that Justice Department is working with the Treasury to come up with rules providing an avenue for banks to handle legal revenue.
CNN's Kevin Liptak and CNNMoney's Charles Riley contributed to this report.