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. Greg

    And we should legalize all the drugs. At least the money would be going to our country instead of Mexican cartels and countless gangs. We could more easily moderate the sale.

    January 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  2. Asheville Chic

    Alcohol is a toxin that can lead to overdose and death. Weed? Not so much. It's herbal, natural and safe. Stop comparing it to alcohol. Watch the Sanjay Gupta documentary called "Weed" and see how beneficial it is!!! It's about time this country stopped the brainwashing done for the last 70 years.

    And do you know what the gateway drug really is? CIGARETTES.

    January 19, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  3. estevan

    my opinion, weed is not as bad as oxy, Vicodin, morphine, zanax, which are all man made and made in the U.S weed is a natural medicine.

    January 19, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  4. inglehoffer

    it's not just that marijuana is relatively benign, it's not just that it's scheduled with heroin or ecstasy, it's in a HIGHER level of schedule than are (dextro)methamphetamine and cocaine- which are considered either less dangerous or addictive or with less use potential. those are very difficult statements our DEA/FDA make tacitly, with marijuana in schedule 1 of the controlled substances act

    January 19, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  5. Junior Jimenez

    I suggest we should illegalazie alcohol and we legalize marijuana ? It's safer, and marijuana isn't a man made substance. (Unless the government created it )

    January 19, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. David

    It is a sad day when the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, just sticks his thumb in the air to see which way the wind blows before opening his mouth on REALLY REALLY important issues in social policy.

    "You gotta stand for something, or your going to fall for anything" - J.C.M

    January 19, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  7. Jenn

    Stop comparing cannabis with meth and the like. In this dialogue we're talking about pot and anyone who has smoked it (Mr. President!)... who was a heavy regular pot smoker by his own testament) KNOWS there's no comparison to those other substances. MOST regular cannabis users would touch those drugs, many don't even drink alcohol.

    To draw this comparison or invite these other speculations into the conversation is just ridiculous, and somewhat irrelevant. Just sounds like a lot of nonsense and more doubletalk. Remove it from schedule 1 and repeal cannabis/hemp prohibition. In other words, shit or get off the pot... pun intended.

    January 19, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  8. I. B. Unsurprised

    I am completely unable to drink alcohol more than a couple of times a year. I suffer from psoriasis and alcohol use causes my skin condition to flare badly. On top of that, there's the medications I take to control my incurable disease that carry do not drink warnings as well.
    Conversely, smoking pot helps me relieve stress which is a major trigger for psoriasis. And after 40+ years, my lungs are just fine. Of course it also helps that I've never smoked tobacco, which is also more harmful than marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  9. Moss

    This was refreshing. I can't tell you the last time I've heard anything come out of his mouth that was this close to the truth.

    January 19, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. estevan

    alcohol is also man made

    January 19, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  11. Dean

    Another falsehood, Obama no worse than Carter.
    And meanwhile............The study challenges the assumption that there are few serious risks to using marijuana, says the lead author of the paper, Alan Barber, a professor of clinical neurology at the University of Auckland. "Marijuana is associated with lung disease, heart attacks, and atrial fibrillation," in which the speed or rhythm of the heartbeat is impaired, Barber told TakePart. "[Marijuana] is also known to constrict down the arteries in the brain. Our study suggests that a lifestyle that includes marijuana is associated with an increased risk for stroke as well."

    The research was presented recently at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2013. The study included 160 people who'd had an ischemic stroke or TIA. The patients were comparatively young—ages 18 to 55—who'd had their urine screened when they were admitted to the hospital.

    January 19, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  12. Frank

    I liked Obama before saying this.

    January 19, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Prohibition, game over.

    January 19, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  14. Nanners

    Finally the truth comes clean. Denying and hiding and running in fear of change is only going to push your kids into trying cannabis. Just be honest with them. It's not safe to drink either.

    January 19, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  15. Opinion8it

    Marijuana..."no more dangerous than alcohol’
    What this means America, is that YOU get to make the choice whether you want to ban BOTH alcohol and marijuana or whether you want to legalize BOTH alcohol and marijuana, because for the most part, hey are both the same and should be treated equally/

    January 19, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  16. estevan

    why is everything man made legal and everything natural illegal? hmmmmmm $

    January 19, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  17. jimmie

    It would not surprise me to learn that Obama has smoked dope, hash, THC, and done acid, coke, crack etc.- probably while in office.

    January 19, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  18. josh cannabis sativa™

    Obama's statements are absolutely ridiculous and hypocritical of his actual beliefs. He's gotta realize that "MARIJUANA IS SAFER THAN ALCOHOL", as opposed to, "I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” and it's not like we've been making it safer all these years as was suggested by his remark about the future of cocaine and meth if marijuana were to be legalized... Cannabis has never killed anyone, ever in the history of the entire world; BIG difference, and recent studies by Ivy League Universities have concluded that we should also not be concerned that marijuana has any kind of "gateway drug effect", at least not any more so than chocolate. Lastly, stress kills, and we should rather people smoke a little pot to relieve stress than recommend they go out and get drunk with all sorts of negative possibilities which are never found with cannabis use.

    January 19, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  19. Greg C.

    Shades of gray...just as alcohol effects people differently; the same can be said with MJ. They are both mind-altering, they are both harmful and they both have medicinal benefits. If your motive for such use is recreational or for "relieving stress"...that is a slippery slope...and don't believe the lies about there being no lasting damage from prolonged use...that cough you have, that sore throat you have, your inability to focus, etc., along with increased depression...they are all hallmarks of what will only get worse....as for the argument in favor of legalization; have no issue; problem there is that it's no panacea. Organized crime, black-markets, etc. will still be there...it's not the substance, it's the money behind the product that drives crime....

    January 19, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  20. Me

    That the smartest thing I heard that idiot ever say!!!!

    January 19, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  21. Blaine Weller

    " 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?” "

    I would say yes. Mostly because we already are. While it may not be pure meth you can pick up on the street, millions of parents put their children on a form of an amphetamine every year. Vyvanse or Adderall are used to treat ADHD in many children. The side effects of these medications are on a smaller scale but consistent with Meth use. So, if we can concentrate Marijuana down to a finely calibrated dose that won't kill you or rot your teeth (sarcasm) just so parents and teachers done have to deal with the "problem" children of the class. Then, yes, we will all be fine with it.

    January 19, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  22. Bee

    MJNA is the best investment i agree 100%. Right now it is only .20 cents. per share. if bought now, it will create multi millionaires in 2 years or less.

    January 19, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  23. MT

    Of course Obama would make such a statement. It is an age old tactic, drug the group (or in this case convince them it is ok to drug themselves) and you can have your way. You could even set the nation on a path to absolute destruction and who would care? The group is happy for a while until your agenda is realized then it no longer matters. Sort of like the frog in a pot of water.

    January 19, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  24. George

    I've smoked weed for fifty years with no desire to use other drugs as a result.

    January 19, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  25. loops808

    People need to be informed about the effects of smoking weed. Brain scans have shown that young adults and adolescents who smoke weed had permanent changes in brain structure different than those that didn’t smoke weed. Studies have indicated that young adults and adolescents that smoke(d) weed had a higher prevalence of schizophrenia. Anyone who believes that children and adolescents will not have easier access to weed is smoking…weed. Does anyone deny that underage drinking is a problem in high schools and colleges? There is no doubt that Colorado will see this problem compounded with weed. Are people aware that the most frequent drug second to alcohol that most people receive drug treatment for is weed–not cocaine, meth, or opiates. Alcohol has a tremendous strain to health cost and legalizing weed will increase this cost.

    January 19, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
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