Obama: Marijuana No More Dangerous than Alcohol

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In a series of interviews with The New Yorker, President Barack Obama said he thinks marijuana use is no more dangerous than alcohol.

Obama and marijuana

Obama went on to add that it’s not something he encourages and has told his daughters he thinks “it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

Here’s the context for the statement:

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion—the legalization of marijuana—he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “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.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.

Less dangerous, he said, “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.” What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “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.” But, he said, “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.”

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal in the United States; however, 21 states allow or are about to allow medical marijuana use. Two states — Colorado and Washington — have decriminalized the use of marijuana entirely, and Alaska and the District of Columbia are considering the same.

Obama believes it’s important for the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington to go forward because “it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

Having said that, Obama said that legalizing marijuana isn’t a panacea for social problems and that the experiment with legalization in Colorado and Washington “is going to be, I think, a challenge.”

From a health perspective, research has identified associations between smoking marijuana and large airway inflammation, symptoms of bronchitis, increased airway resistance and lung hyperinflation [1]. Additionally, there is a relationship between marijuana exposure early in life and several psychiatric disorders. Researchers speculate that psychoactive components of marijuana such as THC alter normal adolescent neurodevelopment, shifting the brain’s developmental course toward a disease-vulnerable state, predisposing users to motivational, affective, and psychotic disorders [2].

Source: The New Yorker


  1. Lee and Hancox. Effects of smoking cannabis on lung function. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2011 Aug;5(4):537-46; quiz 547. doi: 10.1586/ers.11.40.
    View abstract
  2. Chadwick et al. Cannabis Use during Adolescent Development: Susceptibility to Psychiatric Illness. Front Psychiatry. 2013 Oct 14;4:129. eCollection 2013.
    View abstract
About the Author

Jenny Jessen is Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH. She is also a senior writer at Highlight HEALTH.