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. Juanito

    This is just what we need from our C in C: a medical opinion without the doctorate degree or anything else tied to the research of what Mary Jane can do to your mind after prolong use.

    But hey, like he said, he's smoked it, so at least he has THAT experience.

    I wonder what he has to say about coke, hash, e, and cigarettes(even wonder why this chain smoker is NEVER photographed with a smoke in hand or dangling out his mouth? The press don't make their darlings look bad).

    I wonder what he'd say if he found a j or two in his daughters' purse.

    January 19, 2014 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  2. Alex

    It is no more dangerous than alcohol for the person that uses it, BUT when you have Cheech and Chong for neighbors and the smoke goes through your house. This is happening to my co-worker who has a two-year-old girl. Early in the morning the smoke filters into his apartment from his downstairs neighbor. The building manager said that she couldn't do anything about it, since the pothead neighbor contended that it was for medical reasons.

    January 19, 2014 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  3. simone

    Thank you CNN for posting and not editing out. See prior comment. Must admit that Barry makes it very difficult for two parents of teenage boys looking for a role model that the prez is NOT! He is exact with his language but he doesn't realize what teenagers hear. They hear that it is ok to break our current laws (regardless of age, medical condition, or state of residency) and smoke pot.

    January 19, 2014 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  4. noillusion

    I'd have to say that weed is probably not as bad as alcohol.

    January 19, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  5. Thomas

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


    When will you stop blaming GW Bush ?

    January 19, 2014 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  6. Dave

    It's nice for him to admit to reality. But he has the authority to reclassify marijuana by moving it into a different schedule or by de-scheduling it altogether, which is the most appropriate alternative because marijuana is not a drug, it is an herb.

    January 19, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  7. kenny

    pot laws were created by a racist, anslinger, with the help of a smear campaign by dupont and hearst to imprison minorities. They are still used to target minorities more than whites. anyone that supports pot laws is either ignorant and/or a racist.

    January 19, 2014 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  8. Scott

    "as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes ".......then why are we trying to ban cigarettes, and legalize pot at the same time? The epitome of hypocrisy.

    January 19, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  9. Greg

    Wine Coolers are the gateway drink to moonshine. What's that? Just because you drink a wine cooler or beer doesn't mean you drink moonshine?! Nonsense, everyone that drinks wine coolers or beer end up hooked on moonshine. They need to make wine coolers and beer illegal. Now that makes just as much sense as the nonsense arguments batted about by people that want pot criminalized. Let's look past all the BS and get right to the point. If pot were legalized, the biggest losers would be the pharmaceutical industry. You can't have people growing their own medicine for free, especially when we have a billion dollar industry ready and willing to sell you the synthetic version for 10 times the price. That's the bottom line. Now you have to ask yourself are your tax dollars going to good use? Is it worth locking someone away for $65,000 a year on a pot charge to ensure corporate profits?

    January 19, 2014 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  10. rayray1

    Pot is definitely less harm full than alcohal. It now dawns on me that the alcohal industry is probably at the front of the battle against pot. That includes the retail liquor stores. Legalization of pot will probably spell the beginning of the end of the liquor industry. In fact if you think about their is a big difference between a liquor bar and pot café.

    January 19, 2014 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  11. NeoPrudentist

    As long as I can go to restaurants and bars and not have to get high secondhand, I don't care what people do with their own bodies. It's time to stop legislating other people's morality and not allowing them to make (and be responsible for the outcomes of) their own choices.

    January 19, 2014 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  12. nik green

    No worse than alcohol? Oh Mr. President, get real. Alcohol kills 100,000 Americans every year, via toxicity, alcohol related disease, violence, and drunken driving. Marijuana? Perhaps some people may eat too many chips or get lazy.... not really a comparison.

    January 19, 2014 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  13. rayray1

    I want everyone who has ever been arrested for pot to have that record completely esponged from any record.

    January 19, 2014 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  14. shehar39

    he wants a nation of zombies.. easier to control

    January 19, 2014 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  15. Matt

    Dealing marijuana is a gateway into dealing harder drugs.

    Legalize it and we will have less hard drug dealers.

    January 19, 2014 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  16. Duke LaCrosse

    C'mon, Barack, "a kid"? You were a stoner way beyond that definition, pal. Maybe the chair of the "Choom Club" shouldn't comment on how marijuana fits in to society. It's like John McCain commenting on raging alcoholic parties. Bottom line is that you two are neither ambassadors nor advisors for these particular vices. Unless, Barack, you also want to comment on cocaine abuse. In that case, have at it, and speak from personal experience, by all means. Teach us!

    January 19, 2014 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  17. Beth

    Smoking anything is more harmful than alcohol. Maybe the brownies would be safer?

    January 19, 2014 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  18. rayray1

    You can believe anything you want about the dangers of many bad drugs. Pot is not one of them. Alcohal is one of them. I know many people who have shortened their own lives by excessive use. No law or religion or government is going to change people from getting intoxicated. Let's keep America a free country and realize that their is going to be some abuse but its a choice, the abuse in this country comes from those who want to tell others that they can't do this or that or the other. Usually its the religious nut cases who are the biggest threats to personal freedoms. Keep the pot at home.

    January 19, 2014 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  19. Tam

    His name is President Obama.

    January 19, 2014 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  20. Dr. John Blanchett

    Cocaine and methamphetamine are both drugs that have medical indications. It is silly to compare them to marijuana.

    January 19, 2014 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  21. bluedolphin53

    Obama is right. Legalize crack, heroin and meth as long as there is medical proof that it is not any worse than alcohol. Thank you Mr. President for finally standing up for the druggies. We are appreciative not to be discriminated against any longer

    January 19, 2014 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  22. Jason Jackinsky

    As a certified EMT I second that there are not any major emergencies or recorded deaths that I or my colleagues have ever experienced or heard of that have been professionally recorded or complained of under the record or on the record. I am sure that there has been paranoid situations, or very hungry people recorded on various restaurant take out lines that are craving pizza or something delicious to eat. I am also very certain that many loving relationships have become lifelong relationships because of Marijuana. I am also very certain many people that have various forms of sicknesses have been helped with great positive results by the use of this substance. I stand behind our President that this substance is no worse than consumable alcohol and think that it can be a bad thing if it is abused, or used by people who are driving vehicles or by children. It is a substance that should be regulated fairly, and in my opinion, because it is not a substance that is scientifically proven to be dangerous to humans, should not be illegal.

    January 19, 2014 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  23. dojo8181

    Obama is very sincere, and he's speaking the truth about Marijuana. I've lost too many friends to alcohol abuse. I've never lost a friend from Marijuana abuse.

    January 19, 2014 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  24. airliftrr

    How did the US fare on that last academic performance comparison to 50 other developed nations? 38th overall, worse in math and slight better in reading comprehension. The President's comments seem to show no concern for the effects of MJ on academic performance, unless he can quote some scientific study that supports the improved performance of students under the influence. By what I heard, he was stoned much of the time in California at the junior college (performance is masked), and at Columbia where his performance again is masked. Does this make his position on this topic legitimate or valid?

    January 19, 2014 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  25. Reaper Icyle Lockhart

    ok how about If somebody says, We’ve got a finely bad cops abuse ppl , it isn’t going to kill you or rot your teeth, are we O.K. with that?”

    January 20, 2014 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
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