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. ComeOnMan

    Mr. President, I had been trying to lay off writing you so much but then you go and say dumb s hit like cigarettes and weed are similar just a vice. Nicotine is addictive and cannabanoids are not. There will never be the need for something like a Nicorette patch for weed and you know it! Man, stop playing.

    January 20, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. Cindy

    Weed is just as bad as alcohol. That is a proven fact that I personally seen. My brother was smoking pot and he had done it for years. One night while smoking, he spaced right thru a red light and hit a person. He admitted to me that he had been smoking. What made him stop smoking was one day he was reading a book to his daughter and he could not remember the word THE. His daughter told him, "dad that is THE, can't you read". That hit him hard.

    January 20, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  3. Della

    Thanks Chuck finally someone that is speaking the truth.

    January 20, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  4. George T Hibs

    That is why Obama is a dope.

    January 20, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  5. m123

    So when are you going to decriminalize it Mr. President?

    January 20, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. simplyput

    Pot hit the high school campuses in the 1960's and disturbed more than a few young lives. Most of the people I know that still smoke are border-line mentally ill. This man could've saved countless young lives from lifestyles that corrupt, deceive and lead to bad choice after bad choice ad infinitum. Did he? No, he uses the bully pulpit to destroy morality and judgement. So sad.

    January 20, 2014 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  7. McRCN

    Obama smoked a lot of weed in his youth, so he is not going to try to say it is wrong.

    January 20, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. dre

    Let's just legalize everywhere already and break out the Doritos! #buystockinfritolay

    January 20, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  9. cindyindy

    Cindy it sounds to me like you are just jealous that you can't find any quality chronic for yourself, so instead you go on CNN.com and make up bs stories.

    January 20, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  10. G D

    The "freest" country on Earth, as we like to call ourselves, should not bother trying to legislate morality. What someone does in the privacy & safety of their home or other environment that does not harm others is their choice. We should stop wasting all this tax money on chasing all this as a crime. I may not agree with your choices, or you with mine, but the freedom to make those choices is what we're supposed to be about.

    January 20, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  11. Carly

    How can Preident Obama say he is African American if his father is Kenyan from Kenya and his mother is caucation and from Kansas. That would make him mixed race or more then 2 ethinic groups. A true African/American can trace his famly to slavery. Also how can he say he wa a lawyer if he never practiced law. Alot of hipe about him being first black president but he is only half Kenyan. And I bet was not born in US because I read that he moved to Hawaii when he was two. Is that when his birth certificate was made?

    January 20, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  12. Dumbcindy

    Cindy – I don't believe that for a second. Wait ... whats th da der um fa que... er um oh THE word? Oh wait.. that wasn't me... People need to get with it. Not an Obama fan but he was honest and has opened the dialogue. I don't even really smoke BUT I can go buy 20 half gallons of whiskey. Need I say more....

    January 20, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  13. TexasNana

    Thanks, Mr. President, for sharing your observations with us. Know that I agree with you, as well as a lot of other decent folks out there; so please use your executive power to stop ANY arrests for amounts up to a quarter of an ounce until all states where it is not legal as well as the Federal Govt. figure out that it's a great taxing unit for the support of our country. Any amount over this, one could assume was not for personal use and you and the individual states where illegal could prosecute to the fullest .....after all, these dealers are raking in money, unregulated or taxed!!! I'm afraid a lot of young lives' futures are put at risk because of arrests for small amounts; making it impossible for them to obtain a decent job they may otherwise be considered for when their records show arrest for marijuana. No matter that history may fault you for some things not accomplished during your terms, they will remember that you brought this subject out into the light and were honest with the American people as no one in power has ever done....thank you, Mr. President!

    January 20, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  14. mayhem4u

    No stoner can ever see anyhthing wrong with weed. I'll believe Obama's thoughts on weed when I see him token away with his daughters!! I want pictures of Sasha and Malia doin' a doobie!! LIKE WOW, DUDE!!!

    January 20, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  15. mayhem4u

    No stoner can ever see anything wrong with weed!!! I'll believe Obama's statements on weed when I see him token with his daughters!!! I want to seefront page pictures of Sasha and Malia token on a doobie!!! Then I'll join Obama saying there is nothing wrong with the stuff!! LIKE WOW, DUDE!!

    January 20, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  16. Jime

    Another punt from Obama. I know theres a political game one has to play to get reelected but come on just tell us how you really feel, your done getting reelected now. He did the same thing with gay marriage where his views were "evolving". Its now ok to be pro legalization so man up

    January 20, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  17. El Warbo Grande

    No more dangerous than alcohol you say? 320,000 people die from alcohol each year, so I guess that's not saying much. Hey, lets legalize marijuana, and outlaw guns!

    January 20, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. Jimmy Potseed

    Finally!!! He admitted it. Now we can make a move towards something intelligent.

    January 20, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. timelord7202

    So alcohol needs to be prohibited?

    Why is it we go gung-ho on substances yet ignore what's more critical in life – the economy for the working class?

    January 20, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  20. Common Sense

    Try running the country fool, and stop meddling in the lives of what people do and don't do. perhaps if you stayed off the golf course, and hired more ethical people, and stopped blaming any and all for what you know or don't know, we would all be better off......

    January 20, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. Common Sense

    who gives a care what he thinks? I mean really, every time he injects his opinion in to the national debate, he ends up with athletes foot of the mouth.....

    January 20, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. Brad

    in response to G D: you said: "The "freest" country on Earth, as we like to call ourselves, should not bother trying to legislate morality. What someone does in the privacy & safety of their home or other environment that does not harm others is their choice. We should stop wasting all this tax money on chasing all this as a crime. I may not agree with your choices, or you with mine, but the freedom to make those choices is what we're supposed to be about."

    I disagree with you. Once your high, drunk or something along those lines...the ability to think coherently goes out the window and thats when dumb decisions are made. Like jumping into a car and driving around. Freedom does not just exist. It is earned! And in order to have freedom, rules are set in place so millions of people can live in relative peace and harmony.

    January 20, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  23. Once a Democrap now a realist

    Inn 2009 he touted being the Harshest prez on drugs to date. Now he has flipped, and sounds like a dope dealer him slef. Can anyone say..... He wants better poll numbers, what a loser.

    January 20, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  24. Big_D

    The right wants small government for big business and big government for us. I think we have proved we can handle our freedom, big business? Not so much.

    January 20, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  25. simplyput

    Wet-brain or burnt-brain, what difference does it make?

    January 20, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
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