January 19th, 2014
11:21 AM ET
8 years 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.

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“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. cneder

    OWEbama would know! The question is, does the secret service deliver his weed or does it come from the DEA?

    January 19, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. Tora

    No worse, but both are bad and are habit-forming... It is worrisome that marijuana is starting to be treated as "normal." The best life is a sober life...

    January 19, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. Darryl

    Lot of ignorance on this thread. And a Herb grown from seed in nature has no similarities to meth, cocaine, alcohol. The later was all processed drugs. Alcohol it's self requires extensive amounts of equipment and fuel to extract alcohol from the mash/sugars that are used. Cocaine is grown as a plant but extracted using gasoline and other harsh chemicals, And meth is made using lab created pills and various chemicals. Cannabis is planted and grown, you cut and dry the buds and let it cure. Silly people

    January 19, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    His last point is stupid.. WE DO GIVE METH AND HEROIN TO PEOPLE! They are called PHARMACEUTICALS. Oxy is an opiate, like heroin, and adderall is an ampethamine very similar to cocaine or meth.. sorry to point that out but it is all hypocrisy.

    January 19, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. Thomas

    Weed smokers tend to be less violent . Drunk guy shoots up bar , Guy smokes joint , chokes on burrito .

    January 19, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  6. readlearn

    The trouble is WEED is a Gate Way Drug Plus the Semi-buz can stay with you for a week or so..

    January 19, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. Alan

    Greg at 12:45 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.

    Please tell me this is not a serious comment.

    January 19, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. jordan

    Alcohol,cocaine,meth,heroin.....abusing those substances can and will kill you.....marijuana does not....end of story.

    January 19, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. mom

    I have never had alcohol in my life. I prefer to keep a flat stomach! Even after 7 kids....I work out and eat healthy. Alcohol makes that difficult to stay in shape, so no alcohol for me.

    January 19, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. Cody

    Some of you people absolutely amaze me at how blind you are.
    "Why not make it all legal and have a doped up world"

    Okay first off, the only reason Cannabis is portrayed as a "Drug" is because society and government made it that way with lies 70+ years ago. If it wasn't labeled a "drug", like it SHOULDN'T be, then how would it affiliate itself with other drugs?

    Cigarettes are one of the most addicting things on the planet, but we see politicians and many other people smoking, portraying tobacco use as a good thing, right?

    It's not about getting high, as most of the negatives want to make it. It is about getting Pain killers stronger than morphine that are non addictive and you can't overdose on them. It's about making fuel that doesn't destroy our atmosphere. If you don't understand and respect the Cannabis plant as a whole, then you are blind and stupid as it is one of the most versatile plants on this country.

    58% of state police in Indiana say they are for the regulation and legalization of Cannabis. They are the ones that have to deal with criminals, drug dealers, etc.. So doesn't that make them more qualified then you on if it should be legal or not?

    Instead of assuming it is a bad thing, quit being a close minded bat and look up your own research on cannabis. The results will blow your mind.

    But if not, sit back, sip your poisonous alcohol, smoke your cig and believe you are morally right.

    January 19, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  11. Alex Powers

    But they do have a "finely calibrated dose of meth" its called Adderal and it makes the government hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

    January 19, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  12. Alcohol is much worse

    Alcohol is much worse. Hands down. Alcohol kills more people every year than in accidental shootings...

    January 19, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  13. Josh

    What a pathetic, PATHETIC phony!!!... Seriously. Would have loved to have seen him say that back in 2009. He will say absolutely anything to save his approval ratings right now. "Hey Michelle, what are the American people more than 50% in favor of right now? Pot? Oh yeah!! That's great, I can get a few more people to like me if I come out in support of that."

    Absolutely the most transparent administration in American history... I think we can all see through is BS now.

    January 19, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  14. z8k8

    There is a difference, what's he talking about. He must want to change the subject from failed ACA delivery.
    Alcohol is processed much faster as a toxin and effects reduced by next morning.
    Also the two work differently on the brain, but every one can do with their brain as they choose.
    In any type of accident from now on, the'll start checking for weed and if a person is "intoxicated".
    I can drink and pass the drug test in a day to get hired.

    Maybe he should give it to his kids before selling it to ours.

    January 19, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  15. organically

    Marijuana is an issue of freedom. Pot reduces pain and symptoms associated with a myriad of heath conditions and diseases. Three out of four physicians in the USA support the legalization of marijuana for medical use. Two thirds of Americans believe that marijuana laws should be similar to alcohol laws – must be 21 to possess or sell, cannot smoke and drive, tax it, etc.

    January 19, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  16. Jim

    Maybe we should treat weed like we treat tobacco. Not criminalize it but have major disapproval and show people the health damage. Lung cancer, memory loss, impairment to driving. Plus weed makes you lazy, not industrious like our society needs in the next 30 years to get us back on track economically.

    The answer may be drug testing by employers. Want to smoke dope and sit around doing nothing? OK, but don't expect to get any kind of good job. Maybe we need to reward the non-users rather than legally punish the loser weed users. Maybe drug testing for car insurance. Have pot in your system? Pay double for insurance.

    January 19, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  17. phantom235


    January 19, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. Jay Fiel

    The only reason the Federal Government is bringing this topic to light and this is my opinion is revenue.
    As far as long term affects you'll never get an honest opinion from some one who has been using it for forty years.

    January 19, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  19. Nameless

    That last paragraph in the article reminds me of the argument some people use that if you allow gay marriage, people will eventually be able to practice polygamy or marry an animal. Absolutely ridiculous. Legalizing weed won't lead to legalization of all drugs because almost all other recreational drugs are far more dangerous than weed. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Nobody is going to be stupid enough to legalize meth. The 'slippery slope' argument does not work here. It's just a lame excuse for not doing the right thing and taking weed off of Schedule 1.

    January 19, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  20. Baltimoreguy

    The pot of the future will be engineered to have much higher levels of THC. So we could conceivably be talking very different "highs" and very different short and long term effects on the brain: particularly those of young people. I know several states are starting to drool over the tax revenue generated in Colorado but would do well to pay close attention to what (if anything) goes down in the post legalization era thereby providing a cautionary tale for one and all.

    January 19, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. Mike826

    So that makes legalized pot it good for America? Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the US, so he wants another serious problem?

    January 19, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. Melissa

    Obama is wrong. Cigarettes and pot are worse than alcohol. Why? Because alcohol doesn't travel by air to the people around the person using it.

    January 19, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  23. Stupid Obama!

    And now Obama is a health expert? What a stupid comment! But wait . . . pretty much par for the course from this guy!

    January 19, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  24. Truth

    First time this guy has made sense to me. Now tear down ACA and we'll fire one up to celebrate!

    January 19, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  25. mark

    barry is stupid. use alcohol as intended and smoke one joint. let me know if the level of impairment is the same. barry is dishonest.

    January 19, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
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