The Slatest

Obama: Pot Is No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

“It’s not something I encourage,” Obama said of marijuana. “And I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy”

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The New Yorker’s David Remnick has released his long-awaited profile of President Obama and, no surprises here, it’s a long one. Clocking in at almost 17,000 words, the piece has several interesting insights, one of which comes when Remnick asked the president about the legalization of marijuana, and points out that Obama did not seem eager “to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue.” But Obama still says some things that would have been unthinkable for a president only a few years ago.

“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,” Obama said. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” When Remnick pressed on whether marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, Obama thought about it for a while and said it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer,” but emphasized that “it’s not something I encourage.” The president expressed particular concern with the disproportionate number of arrests for marijuana possession among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said, adding that individual users shouldn’t be locked up “for long stretches of jail time.”

Obama expressed some support for the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, noting that “it’s important for it to go forward.” At the same time though he warned that the legalization is going to be a “challenge,” in part because of the slippery-slope argument that could arise:

“[W]hen it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. 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? 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?”

In another interesting part of the interview, Remnick asks Obama whether he feels ambivalent about watching football considering the multiple reports about concussions and early-onset dementia among retired players. “I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. But the players know the risks and they choose to continue playing. “At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” Obama said. “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”