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. raul kabinza

    Obama is wrong. Alcohol alone is far more detrimental to society than marijuana is by itself. One person summed it up nicely by saying that no one came home and beat their spouse because they were high on marijuana.

    However, these substances make a deadly mixture when the user is behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

    I say legalize, regulate, and seal the borders.

    January 19, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  2. Legalize it

    They need to legalize pot and allow states and the government to make some tax money off of it.
    It is ridiculous to lock up anyone over pot and you would clear the courts and jails out. We would
    help the unemployment lines, and start new businesses. This is probably the only issue I have agreed
    with on Obama!

    January 19, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  3. Bob

    So Obama pretty much agrees that it is ok to have two bad things – alcohol and weed. What's next. If and I repeat IF everyone who needs weed never drives under the influence OK but do you really think that will happen so I guess the deaths from DUI alcohol and DUI weed added will go up.

    January 19, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  4. Mark

    Alcohol kills how many each year due to DUI? And medically (sclerosis of the liver, etc). I guess either, when done in little to mild use, do no harm (or little). But when it is overused, or when they consume then operate a vehicle, everyone else is at risk. As if DUI wasn't bad enough, not we'll have weed sniffers to worry about.

    January 19, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  5. Gil

    Since I find out my older son was smoking this horrible drugs our family life has been changed,
    Mr. President, I voted for you, please do not legalize this drug.

    January 19, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  6. usm

    This guy is just the gift that keeps on giving.

    As usual he is clueless.

    January 19, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  7. Mark

    I was ok with what he said until:

    “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?”

    This makes no sense whatsoever! Not even a rational comparison. I would like to hear informed considerations. At least he is starting to talk a bit of sense about weed.

    January 19, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  8. Dorken Wackenburg

    It is time for something alright ... time for the country to rename itself and let states decide whether they want to be on board with the direction that the "FedErAl GOveRnmeNt" clearly wants to take everyone. Clearly Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, New York, and most of the NE states want to legalize all drugs, legalize pedophilia, legalize all undocumented immigrants, legalize all marriage, while many of the other states retain conservative values and would love to NOT be part of the impending moral decay that is about to happen in this country. Dissolve the United States of America. We are NOT united in any way. Dissolve the United States of America. Free everyone from their slavery and servitude to the rotten ideals that have become this nasty disease infested, morally corrupt nation.

    January 19, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  9. Tyler

    Alcohol is a much bigger gateway drug than pot is.

    January 19, 2014 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  10. christian poitras villeneuve

    hey barrack, why if it s justice for all you dont legalise for all state !!!

    January 19, 2014 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  11. American

    Oh no! How can Republicans turn this into a scandal?

    January 19, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  12. slmccarter

    I'm not saying that I agree with the legalization of marijuana, but if you think about it how many people have died from an overdose of marijuana?

    January 19, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  13. Elle

    I don't think it's the evil to end all evils, but as somebody once pointed out, what will street level pot dealers turn to if pot is made legal (and taken out of their hands)? I see lots of dealers walking around, and on the news when they get arrested, and if they get arrested for dealing pot, it's usually in conjunction with much harder drugs. Legalize pot, what if that doesn't slow down street violence but only makes it worse?

    January 19, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  14. usamajority

    great, now the president tells kids pot is no worse than alcohol. well done, encouraging children to try drugs, a new low even for the liar in chief

    January 19, 2014 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  15. cnnwatcher5

    So I guess the alcohol industry forgot to make the proper political donations.

    They'll remember next time.

    January 19, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  16. johnny57

    Alcohol? That is the hard stuff! I can go on and on about that stuff, and I can't say that much on the other side.

    January 19, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  17. Suzanne

    Bring on complete legalization. Regardless whether you accept for recreational purposes or not does not give you the right to deny medical patients medicine because you have an irrational fear of people "getting high".

    People are suffering, dying and cannabis can provide significant relief or even cure their illnesses but only because you think that "people will abuse the drug" doesn't give you the right to deny medical relief. Not only is this atrocious in every manner humanly possible it also makes you out to be a hypocrite.

    Don't make your arguments about the children, or about "wanting a drug free nation" because that ship has sailed. America isn't drug free...America is one of the most doped up countries in the world with the highest consumption of pharmaceuticals ever recorded in history.

    Since 1991 there has been a 500% increase of Ritalin prescriptions where roughly 80% of the prescriptions are for children. So your "Drug Free Nation" was shot in the foot by your friendly Pharmaceutical companies.
    And while you claim that "Marijuana is a gateway" to harder drugs I would argue that Ritalin is a much better gateway drug than marijuana could ever be.
    In conclusion, I have M.S and I'm tired of breaking the law.
    God Bless.

    January 19, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  18. Willllburrrr

    "Ain't it great knowing the man with his finger on the nuke button was/is a doper? LOL"

    Gee MT, sure is difficult knowing which political party you're a member of. Or for that matter your level of intelligence.

    January 19, 2014 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  19. ja

    And he is correct, there is hypocrisy,

    January 19, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  20. Kay

    It amazes me the people who comment on Marijuana who have not taken the time to investigate its uses or it's history. At a time passed it was grown just like tobacco was an accepted crop, although not on a commercial level. One man started the smear campaign "Reefer Madness" & the USA began to believe the propaganda. Cannabis does not cause people to go mad, kill people..etc...There is not ONE documented suicide death attributed to pot. Before it was banned it had already proven it's medicinal purposes and was readily available and used by most households in the US. Patients have been cured of seizures, Parkinson tremors, migraines, cancers...etc...It is the best pain killer for those who suffer everyday. The side effects of pharmaceutical are what drug companies expect us to live with and there are lawsuits abound showing their curative drug is worse than suffering; yet one organic plant is banned. If you comment you should at least know what your talking about instead of spreading the "Reefer Madness" bull; but hey you might change your mind if your dying from a deadly disease and Cannabis is your only life line!

    January 19, 2014 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  21. Kazina

    We need all the lies and nonsense removed from this plant(and its extremely useful cousin hemp)'s reputation and we don't need toe Legalize it because it should NEVER have been illegal in the first place, and for anyone that is unclear as to why it was ever made illegal, please do a little history homework and you'll see that it and hemp are both amazing plants that can help humankind in many many many ways.

    They are a Threat to the industries that are a Threat to us and that's why we can't have them.. because they can awesomely replace evil industries like Big Oil, Pharma, Biotech, Logging, and the list goes on as these two plants should be on our flag they are that hardcorely awesome capable of creating everything from paper, fuel, plastic, building material, highly nutritional food, beautycare products, easy effective disease killer, fabric, etc.. having natural herb/pest/fungicide properties and even does a good job of cleaning up the environment and restoring health to soil. Marijuana has spiritual and epiphanic powers in addition to its radical disease killing health restoring properties, and the effect on stress, pain and such is not unmentionable.

    These herbs are miraculous and we are lucky they exist. hemp doesn't even get you high yet it's extremely hard to get permission to grow it as they snuck it along with marijuana when they illegalized that, for no good reason as you can see. There's so much more wonderment about these plants, they also grow very quickly (heh cuz they're weeds) and can replace less efficient and more taxing mass re & de forestation

    SO IN CONCLUSION- If we keep jumping for joy every time they throw us a seed of these plants that are gifts from God that we as God's gifts should be able to do whatever the heck we want with to begin with, we are not going to make any real progress... All labels and lies need to be out of the equation. then again, with all the poisoning the industries these plants would replace do to us, I guess marijuana legislature or lackthereof is presently the least of our worries...
    We as a population that far outnumbers "them" need to take back our rights and right to live our lives as human beings!!

    January 19, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  22. Truth

    Yes. Legalize everything. Tax it and put that money into schools and education (and rehab/hospitals at first since there are a large number of uneducated people out there). A "controlled substance" should be controlled instead of being uncontrolled out on the streets.

    January 19, 2014 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  23. TexasNana

    Amazing that I arrive home from San Antonio sad because there was family drama that left my 17 1/2 yr old grandaughter in jail for one gram of weed. Fri just after I arrived I hugged her & went outside to play w/her younger brother because she had 3 seniors in her room that had brought her home from high school. Shortly she & her friends came out w/her step dad screaming "You're out of her...don't come back". He was including her. He said he'd caught them smoking weed. Next day I picked her up from her girlfriend's house to go to a school all-day function, stayed a while & left to pick her up much later. Apparently she grabbed her makeup bag, phone & weed when kicked out. A mysterious called (I think the step dad) called the school & when they searched, found the weed. $3,000 bond, alternative school for the rest of school, and probably will not be allowed to walk w/cap & gown for her diploma...even w/most all A's and 4 years of ROTC. So, thanks President Obama for choosing this particular time to give us your feelings on the subject & I agree that it's natural & harmless if used as a recreation and not to work, drive or study on....Sincerely, a sad grandma.

    January 19, 2014 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  24. Larry

    Since many "Fine" folks drink, it is OK. However, both rot you brain. Cigarettes have been proven to cause cancer. What's the big deal? As long as stays illegal there will be the allure of the forbidden.

    January 19, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  25. Taniel

    It's great that Obama recognizes the dangers of alcohol. The question is, will he follow through and place more restrictions on alcohol sale and use? Half of all crime, and a significant percentage of vehicle incidents are influenced by alcohol. We need to treat it as seriously as we treat drugs.

    January 19, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
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