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. Armagod

    At the end of the day, opinions on pot are moot. People who smoke it will continue to smoke it. People who grow it will continue to grow it. People who sell it will continue to sell it. The only choice the nation faces is who profits from the commerce.

    January 20, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  2. ktown8

    You can't buy beer on the street corner from a drug dealer.....which may be laced with something else. Alcohol may not be much better, but it is well regulated and there are proper laws in place to prevent bootleggers from operating, there are limits for driving and ways for the police to test during sobriety test. Also, no one regulates THC levels. There is just way too many unknowns and improper regulation to just come out and say it should be legal. Set up national laws and regulations for consumption, manufacturing, and selling of it first.

    January 20, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  3. Armagod

    At the end of the day, opinions regarding pot are moot. Those who smoke it, grow it and sell it will continue to do so. The only choice the nation faces is who will profit from the commerce.

    January 20, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Polar Bear

    A true leader would have said "marijuana is just as bad for you as alcohol. I discourage use of both. They call it 'dope' for a reason." What this amateur has done is basically given a rationalization to all of those out there to smoke pot. "Hey, the President said it's okay" is the message he sent.

    January 20, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  5. zazen

    America has the highest incarceration rate in the world by a large margin. Jailing people for smoking pot is totally rediculous. At the same time we are jailing pot smokers, we're letting rapists and other violent criminals go early to free up jail space?!? Anyone see the problem here?

    January 20, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  6. t socrates

    ALCOHOL: over 75,000 deaths per year in US

    Smoking that natural plant: ZERO deaths EVER recorded

    Buying in to government PROPAGANDA: useless

    January 20, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. Gord

    Dangerous ...probably not.
    ....but what he's also saying is that even if it's against the law it's okay if you think it's safe and won't hurt others.

    January 20, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. Michael, Chapel Hill,

    The opinion or experience of the President does not represent that of all Americans. Now What? Executive order?

    January 20, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. Guest

    Obama has just shown a poor example to set before our young people. He is shameful.

    January 20, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  10. jahmyrr

    You cant compare pot to coke and meth. Do they compare beer with moonshine when considering laws? No.

    Whats even more comical is that coke is a class 2 yet pot is a class 1.... Think a little harder before you drop comps like that Mr President.

    January 20, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  11. Jessica McGwin

    We can agree on that. However I am concerned that the funds allocated to combat Marijuana will be cut instead of redirected to the more catastrophic black market "drugs." I use the term Drugs loosely, because I do not believe that some of the products sold on the black markets today come close to the definition of drug. With the rapid development of these products and the ever evolving chemical mixtures , should the Federal Government move toward the legalization of marijuana reducing or cutting those monies would do irreparable harm in combating substance designed to disable or terminate life. As we approach this issue I would ask that we give more than just a glancing look at the classification of these black market substances, there potential for harm, and the consequences for the manufacturing, distribution and ingestion.

    January 20, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  12. Anonymous

    Man, the media really wants this guy to be pro-weed. The bulk of Obama's quotes from this interview are about how he doesn't encourage marijuana use, and yet the headline is "Obama says marijuana 'no more dangerous than alcohol.'"

    January 20, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  13. Mikismom

    Guess the good Doctor hasn't checked out what the American Lung Association has to say...

    January 20, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  14. nwobama

    God Americans suck. Pot is harmless. I've driven my car the day after smoking weed multiple times and never had an accident. I won't ever drive when hung over. I think most people need to smoke weed especially in the US. You guys are so wound up that it drives the rest of the world crazy.

    January 20, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  15. Gargelygoop

    Everyone seems to think they know something about this. Looks like the bias and preconceptions have clouded reality once again. This issue isn't about good or bad habits. Its about the federal authority staying the hell out of peoples personal business! Personal use doesn't actually impact others in any direct away other than the legality issue. If you want to do apples and oranges, just compare a average user to your average grump and its easy. So if you think me smoking a bowl in my living room affects anyone other than me. Please clarify how that is and how that makes me a detriment to society, Since I've been working a full time job for the last 25 years, paying taxes ,bills and my mortgage always on time, while raising 2 children. Its interesting though that Obama thinks he has credibility with the people on this or any issue. The Dems have shown they are even worse than the republicans over the last 7 years and I just cannot appreciate dishonesty even if it supposedly has a special purpose of pacification of the masses. I guess I just thought that we as a country were meant to be better than what we have become. Get stoned if you want people after all diabetics still knowingly dose sugar and that isn't illegal, yet way more dangerous..

    January 20, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  16. vasechek

    he gets taken to school time and again on things like foreign policy and security matters, but he is an expert on weed and alcohol. nice!

    January 20, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  17. Ann

    Yes, let freedom ring, or take the phrase out of the song. Obviously, one who has common sense does not serve alcohol to kids nor should they serve marijuana to kids. When they re-legalized alcohol after Prohibition, it was the same scenario. But again, we are supposed to have the free choice in this country. Let all that taxpayers' money gov has spent on guns to fight such a silly and long war be spent to help balance the budget, something productive.

    January 20, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  18. Sophia

    Well, those of you carrying on about Marijauna... Enjoy your highballs and your brewskis while you watch the Super Bowl, then drive home from the parties to your families. *rolls eyes*
    And No, I do not smoke pot, but I do see a LOT of hypocrisy in many nay sayers.

    January 20, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  19. Jeff

    I believe the United States and Canada will regret allowing marijuana to be legalized. The medical marijuana is already being abused. What legalizing is going to do is open up street wars just like old mafia protecting territories. medical costs will go because of addiction etc just like other addictions. The most critical issues are as the doors open for marijuana, other drugs will follow and will make it easier to get. The harder drugs like cocaine etc, the governments have the power to put a 90 percent stop on them but they won't. I know how but not in this posting. Jeff

    January 20, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. contessa

    Blah! Blah! Blah! Just another Media frenzy to twist the words of President Obama!

    January 20, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Skeptic

    "no more dangerous than alcohol"?!?


    It is far LESS dangerous than alcohol.

    January 20, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  22. Herman

    @ktown8 In 42 years I have never had the luxury of receiving laced marijuana. A dangerous intake of THC would be if you were able to smoke 2,000+ lbs. of marijuana. It doesn't matter how high the THC level is. Educate yourself.

    January 20, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  23. Gladiatior

    Why does Obama feel that he has to weigh in and give an opinion on EVERYTHING? Can't the man just keep his mouth shut for ONCE? He must really like the sound of his own voice. Please just for once Mr. President, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!

    January 20, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  24. Guest

    He's a creep and certainly not to be respected. We would all like to point to the president to set a good example. Obama will openly and repeatedly lie and now we learn he has used drugs. Pathetic president and poor example for our young people to follow.

    January 20, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  25. Big_D

    The US war on it's population is one expense we don't need. Legalize it, tax it and start working on all the other associated products that the chemical and petroleum companies had to kill it over to start with. The chemical companies would have never become a power without defeating hemp. It is a gift from God.

    January 20, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
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