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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'][twitter-follow screen_name='KevinLiptakCNN']

“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. eb

    In the article, “Obama says marijuana ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’, president Obama’s claim about marijuana is not a true comparison. For instance, in the alcohol industry, the content of alcohol is labeled, measured, and stated on the bottle. With marijuana, this may be the case in Colorado if the marijuana is purchased from a legal supplier, but if you buy some off the street you really do not know what you are getting. On the street, people mix all sorts of things in the marijuana such as formaldehyde, and other drugs. Therefore, you cannot accurately claim that it is not more dangerous than alcohol!

    January 20, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  2. rufus

    Like a stopped clock, Obama is occasionally right.

    January 20, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  3. Jeff

    I have mixed feelings about marijuana. Perhaps it's okay to smoke marijuana say, once a month. I don't think doing it every day is a good thing. THC builds up in your brain and stays there longer than alcohol does. And yes, there have been deaths attributed to marijuana. What about car crashes? What about people that get heart attacks from it when they smoke too much and their hearts are beating super-fast? I've read that it might cause cancer just like cigarettes do. Smoking anything is bad for you anyway. Plus, the cognitive defecits that marijuana can leave you with are real. Everyone is suddenly pretending that it's harmless. Alcohol is better because it's predictable. Not that being an alcoholic is a good thing of course. Not that alcohol hasn't killed lots of people and ruined their lives. I get a good buzz on alcohol once a day. It's my reward for a hard day's work. My own experience with marijuana has shown me that it messes with my short term memory, and though it's usually a pretty good time and amazing, sometimes it's downright weird. Alcohol just makes me happy. Marijuana is too much of a risk for me at least.

    January 20, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  4. Thomas Nichols

    Oh. So now he's a doctor, too!
    But let's clarify:
    "... is no more dangerous than alcohol, President Barack Obama..."
    Me: Legally, it is. The penalties for possession of marijuana are much more severe in most states. So Danger level is higher in that regard as Mary Jane can land one in greater trouble.
    IMHO, he just said another "talking without thinking" statement.

    January 20, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  5. BobPitt

    @ Frankly: The carcinogen in cigarettes is on the literally hundreds of different chemicals on the smoke, something applies to Pot, is well documented that in some poor areas women suffer cancer to the lungs by inhaling smoke from fire wood they use for cooking..

    January 20, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  6. johnk

    So you are telling me the use of smoking pot will improve your performance and quality of work or craft you do? That smoking pot in no way lessens your enthusiasm to do any job or task to a higher standard than just average or below? Gee ;then, lets all get stoned all the time.

    January 20, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  7. Bill

    I smoked pot in college and grad school. It didn't bother me while I was in academics but when I got to the real world I found that I couldn't perform to the standards I set for myself when I woke up with cobwebs in my brain. I don't want my employees showing up for work drunk or stoned. I don't want them hung-over from alcohol or with a mushy brain from pot. Both substances impair reaction time so I don't want the guy in the next lane on the highway drifting into me whether it's because of pot or alcohol. I don't think anyone should go to prison for possessing pot. It may be no worse than alcohol, but it's no better either.

    January 20, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  8. john

    Well he is 100 % correct. Only in America will you get attacked for being right about something.

    January 20, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  9. JP

    His statement only proves that while there may be age requirements for Congress and the President there certainly are no intelligence requirements. Pot has been proven to be as addictive as cocaine, heroin and lsd – and stays in brain tissue just as log (years after one's last exposure). So who knows what the effects are years after when folks claim they have been 'clean' for years. I for one am not willing to take that chance in say an airline pilot, train engineer or others in such roles of responsibility operating machinery or driving vehicles.

    January 20, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  10. Wilson BenWa

    Smoke yo blunt Missa Pressadent, Dats what Doctor King wood do,

    January 20, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  11. LMAO

    Well that's one way to raise your approval rating. Suck up to the potheads.

    January 20, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  12. Patrick Donnelly

    Americans actually voted for this guy ???
    Yikes !

    January 20, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  13. greg

    Honestly it depends on the person. I have friends that can function fine on it and you would never know they smoked pot in a social setting. They also don't have the short term memory loss that many experience. Then there are those that laugh at anything, eat everything and then go to sleep. I would say definitely more powerful than alchohol and equally as addictive from my observation.

    Medicinally? Absolutely. If there is a medical benefit that can help people and it is controlled and prescribed then without a doubt it should be used. From what I have read medicinal mary jane is one of the best things to control nausea in cancer patients. If it is a better treatment then use it to help the sick, not pound your selfish political chest to show your constitiuents how moral you are.

    January 20, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. Krush

    Obama should know. He is an expert on chooming. In fact, he got enough of the voters to choom so that he could keep his job twice!

    January 20, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. Ann

    Very refreshing to hear a politician, particularly president, speak honestly. Alcohol can be more dangerous from what we've seen, as alcohol causes people to still want to drive around. Also, alcohol, too, can be called a "gateway drug." Each individual must make up their own mind as to how they choose to behave, based on their own life lessons. That is the best way for their own personal choices to "stick." Congratulations to Obama for being human.

    January 20, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. Guest

    Obama has lost all the sense he ever had.

    January 20, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  17. Bobbie Shinall

    Well, get used to it. Pot usage is too widespread to ever eradicate it. Thought we learned that from prohibition in the 20s and 30s. Pot is like anything else in your life. You have to be responsible.. If you don't drink a couple shots before going to work...you shouldn't smoke pot either. We are personally responsible for what we do.

    January 20, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  18. American Worker

    Another example of where the President disregards the harm to those indulging while ignoring the collateral damage.

    Alcoholism is bad enough without introducing another mind altering substance that many would not otherwise try or become addicted to.

    January 20, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  19. DT

    No decision will be made on this at a federal level unless it is part of an election campaign.

    January 20, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  20. American Worker

    Let's not elect anymore brain damaged Presidents.

    January 20, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  21. Bruce

    Apparently the President read the scientific journals or look at the federally funded research. Marijuana is worse than alcohol because of the genetic damage as well as the physical damage to the body. Hey, Mr. President. Light up another joint.

    January 20, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  22. bill n

    OK Obama start your kids smoking pot...

    January 20, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  23. BossIlluminati

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, marijuana 2014

    only 20 years behind us New York, sad and scary....to think you once represented the free yankee states is laughable...cali runs this planet

    MARIJUANA SUPER BOWL...free state vs free state, destiny....


    January 20, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  24. John Illinois

    Hey Obama! Maybe or maybe not but you are sure way worse than both!

    January 20, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  25. sifto

    Did I hear that Obama is promoting illegal activity? I am from a different country and I understood Pot was illegal in USA? does it mean I can bring it into the country and not be penalized?

    January 20, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44