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. Loathstheright

    Actually, alcohol is many times worse than weed. Weed never killed anyone.
    Washington vs Colorado in the superbowl, both have legalized weed, take a hint America.

    January 20, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. louenglish

    This is one of the few issues on which I agree with the President. Too bad his credibility and trust with the American people is gone

    January 20, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. spectateswamp1

    Prohibitionists think we should lose our freedom family & fortune because of pot; and feel we should be OK with them thinking that.

    Prohibitionists especially the intelligentsia can't imagine they were lied to and have been wrong all their lives

    Prohibitionists think that the Legalization crowd are the ones that are lying.

    Prohibitionists are condescending judgementalists – every perceived personality flaw they see; is somehow related to pot.

    Prohibitionists will be lumped in with the temperance league when it comes to smarts. Only they will be considered even stupider. The temperance league were right on a few points. Like violence and physical damage

    Prohibitionists are afraid of legalization because when they don't toke up with their friends; they will know that they were talking behind their backs and were Judgmental Condescendings

    Prohibitionists are sure they know more about pot than someone that has spent their whole life with Marijuana.

    Prohibitionists think everyone that doesn't agree with them is trolling

    Marijuana people may have died because of pot. It would have been during a daring rescue of some person or animal. Because we are very nice and considerate. Like me for instance.

    January 20, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  4. knowa

    He has the power him self to remove it from #1 classifying today

    January 20, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  5. TexasR

    It's a great time to be a defendant facing marijuana charges! If Obama still had a law license, he could just sign all the dismissals himself.

    January 20, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  6. Samantha

    Both alcohol and marijuana impair judgement. What kind of apparatus are they going to come up with to test how bad you're impaired behind the wheel when it comes to weed?

    January 20, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  7. Jimbo

    What about smoking tobacco? I find it hard to believe that smoking cannabis is any better. So alcohol is worse than tobacco?

    January 20, 2014 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  8. Wayne Gonyea

    Obama says pot no more harmful than alcohol

    January 20, 2014 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC


    Both alcohol and marijuana impair judgement. What kind of apparatus are they going to come up with to test how bad you're impaired behind the wheel when it comes to weed?
    A tray full of Twix, Twinkies, and Buffalo Wings.

    January 20, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  10. TheObserver

    If you smoked a huge joint everyday, and ate one huge McDonalds burger everday, which one will eventually kill you first?

    Everybody wants to legislate their own personal taste, their own preferences. Why? I don't get it.

    What if I just grabbed a handful of grass from my yard and smoked it, is that illegal? Why not? It's bad for you isn't it?

    Salt is bad for you too, I think the government should regulate its distribution, thoughts?

    January 20, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  11. TheObserver

    The bottom line is, unless you've smoked weed, inhaled, and gotten high, you don't have ground to stand on. If you did, you'd realize how benign and mild its affects are, especially compared to drinking, and you would be forced to concede that its not dangerous.

    January 20, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  12. Doobious

    Looking at Obama's track record he must still be inhaling.

    January 20, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  13. Tommy

    The appropriate way to respond to Obamas revelation is....and water is also wet.

    January 20, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  14. NotYoDaddy

    I don't think that it is either.

    That said. I can have a social drink and not get drunk.

    I can't have a social joint and not get high.

    January 20, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  15. Namebonnieguay

    I agree. It's time to decriminalize

    January 20, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  16. Mike

    Is that you Dave Chapelle? Is this me?

    January 20, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  17. D.J. Doyle

    Typical political bologna. Marijuana is MUCH, MUCH safer than alcohol.

    January 20, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  18. Big_D

    Driving impaired isn't funny but the studies show that paranoid people driving ten under are even less likely to have a crash than sober people. Look at the actual tests on high driving, the results may shock you. Alcohol hurts driving but pot made drivers better in many cases. It wasn't my study and I don't think they had the results they wanted. Same thing happened when they tried to prove pot smoke was as bad as smoking, that study ended completely different than they assumed.

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

    Have you ever wondered why this solution to so many things is hidden away and stigmatized with false information? It has a lot to do with greed.

    January 20, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  20. Jules

    Saying marijuana 'no more dangerous than alcohol' trivializes years of known issues of alcohol abuse. Anyone who thinks that there are no long term issues or problems to be associated from marijuana use are uninformed on the subject. This also goes with alcohol, prescription medications and any other substance that have been abused. Now that the domino has been tipped over in Washington and Colorado, time will tell the impact that legal, regular, habitual, recreational and/or addictive use will have on society.

    January 20, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  21. phoenix86

    Obama being on a 24/7 high certainly explains his decisions better than anything else except mental illness.

    January 20, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  22. Big_D

    I can't believe the USA has been so worked by propaganda. They wanted more money and people wouldn't allow the pollution of wood pulp paper while superior rag paper was available. All they needed was bigotry in the southwest and a healthy dose of lies and they were making big bucks polluting our rivers.

    January 20, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  23. TBONE

    I think in a really long time he has made some sense. This I fully agree with on his stance on this.

    January 20, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  24. Tana Lee Tolson

    “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?”

    Whatever lingering respect I ha for Obama just went out with that slimy, stupid, backtracking, political wish-wash. This Dude knows A. Cannabis is harmless. B. The people who get hard-ons associating cannabis with "drugs" are the penile deficient Prohibitionists who are trying to save their livelihood on the backs of people who would rather relax with a gentle herb than liver-rotting booze.

    The republicans were right all along: Obama is a lying, self-serving front for the shadow government.
    (and if Bush has actually been president instead of Cheney, then that could have been said about him too)

    January 20, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  25. Rascal Rabble

    how anedotal and stupid can you get? first obama is not qualified to speak of the pharmacological effects and physiological impact much less the psychological marijuana...i guess his own personal experience take presidence...

    January 20, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
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