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President Obama Says Marijuana is Not More Dangerous Than Alcohol


President Obama told The New Yorker magazine he does not think marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. He added smoking marijuana is “not something I encourage.”

He acknowledged he smoked marijuana in his youth, the Associated Press reports. “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,” he said. Obama added he has told his daughters he thinks smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

Last fall, the U.S. Justice Department announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to carry out their new recreational marijuana laws. The department said it will focus enforcement on criminal charges in specific areas, such as distribution to minors.

The announcement ended almost a year of debate within the Obama Administration about how to react to the state laws, which allow personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for anyone at least 21 years old. They also permit marijuana to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores. Federal law outlaws the production, possession and sale of marijuana.

In the magazine interview, Obama expressed concern at the disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested and imprisoned for marijuana use. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,’’ he said. ‘‘And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” People who use marijuana should not be imprisoned for long periods when the people who write the drug laws “have probably done the same thing,” he noted.

He expressed caution about changing marijuana laws. He said people who think legalizing marijuana will solve social problems are “probably overstating the case.” He added, “And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”

11 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Lori O'Leary
    Lori O'Leary / February 1, 2014 at 11:36 am

    You know, I started reading these comments and rolled my eyes through many of them until the last two. It’s wonderful to see that there are sensible people in this world. There are so many agendas and efforts to control people’s ideas about drugs and alcohol that I think people have lost the ability to think for themselves.
    Seriously, the president is a bright man and that’s pretty obvious. Do you really think he would make a comment about marijuana without having the facts behind him. If the public was privy to the true facts about drugs and alcohol, that have been hidden from us, we would probably be less inclined to get so frantic with comments about marijuana.
    It’s funny that everyone is so worried about what will happen when marijuana is legalized. The drugs that pharmaceutical companies develop and market to the public are much more dangerous.

  2. Avatar of Vaughan Birbeck
    Vaughan Birbeck / January 24, 2014 at 4:47 am

    To anyone saying here President Obama was wrong, I extend an invitation to visit ANY hospital A&E Unit (ER, if you’re American) on any weekend. We will count the number of drunks versus the number of pot smokers – THEN you can tell me which is the more dangerous drug

  3. Perry Kaplan / January 23, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    The ability of the four commenters above to hear their own voices rather than what the President said is simply stunning. What the President said is what every individual that has any experience with marijuana and the criminal justice system knows: Prohibition doesn’t work. Period. He didn’t endorse smoking marijuana. He didn’t say it was good. He said we shouldn’t put young people in prison, and ruin lives for doing something that is not demonstrably worse than drinking alcohol (and by the way, that’s what SAMHSA says, Ralph–he is in full accord with scientific opinion). The only people who disagree are propagandists who have an agenda like the editors of this website. The President, unlike any of the above writers, has recognized that you cannot solve a public health problem by criminalizing behavior. Doing so only results in more people in prison, more death and more costs to society. The benighted attitudes of these commenters will do far more damage then the sensible discussion opened up by the President.

  4. Paul Caldwell, PhD / January 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    This issue cannot be reduced to simple statements such as marijuana should (or should not) be legalized, or marijuana is (or is not) more harmful than alcohol. The questions are: Who will be harmed and who will benefit if marijuana is legalized? The answers are complex. Some youth who would not have used marijuana may use it and will be harmed, some people who would have been prosecuted and harmfully imprisoned will not be, some crime will go down for some people, police resources can be redirected to bigger problems, more health care dollars will have to be spent related to marijuana use, more driving under the influence accidents will likely occur, some people’s lives will improve because they can obtain marijuana safely for nonproblematic personal and/or medical use, others will have their lives negatively affected because they begin to perceive marijuana as relatively benign and use more of it, and other consequences and benefits, some of which we cannot anticipate. The president’s comments and most of those responding disrespectfully to him add little to useful dialogue on the topic.

  5. Ron Gowins / January 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    It is time to end the war on drugs. The “war” has done no good to our society and it will never be “won”. There will always be drugs in our society, no matter what. What is important is education. Locking up people for being a drug use in the Land of the Free is against what our founding faters stood for, too costly to continue, and a vulgar display of human rights violations.

  6. Jamie / January 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    It seems the President does not realize the power of his words. In this simple interview he has undermined the discussion good parents have had with their kids about the dangers of marijuana and other drug use. As the youth perception of harm decreases, we know use increases. This is a major blow to parents and those who work in the prevention and treatment fields.

  7. Avatar of Sunil Aggarwal
    Sunil Aggarwal / January 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Get over it. The science has been supporting his view for a very long time. The article conveniently forgot to mention that he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol to the individual consumer. (This is a pharmacological/toxicological fact, folks).

  8. Trisha DeLozier / January 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    There are no words to convey how disappointed I am in this article and the rubbish that came out of his mouth. I cannot call him our President. The words just will not come out of my mouth!

  9. Ralph Gebes / January 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    How uniformed the President is regarding the effects of smoking marijuana.He should have read the reports from Samsha, his own agencies before he made the remarks.

  10. jeff kushner / January 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    This President has done more to promote harmful drug use than any other president in modern history. He has totally discarded the facts and thoughts of his own experts on the subject. Inequalities are not solved by bring everyone down to the lowest denominator.

  11. Skip Sviokla MD ABAM / January 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I am afraid the president lacks the same critical thinking about marijuana that do many casual observers and proponents of it’s use. In his case however, his uninformed view can and probably will adversely affect millions. Skip Sviokla MD ABAM author “From Harvard to Hell and Back”

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