Obama: Marijuana No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

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Sunday, 19 Jan 2014 02:12 PM

By Greg Richter

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President Barack Obama says marijuana isn't more dangerous than alcohol, but that doesn't mean he thinks it’s a good habit to pick up.

In a New Yorker interview published Sunday, Obama admitted his past use of the drug, and said he tells his own teenage daughters to avoid it.

"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," he said. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

Writer David Remnick asked if he considered marijuana to be less dangerous than alcohol.

Obama said he did believe it to be less so "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." But, he added, "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."

Obama is unhappy with the disparity of punishment for marijuana use, not that "middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do."

African-Americans and Latinos more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid harsh penalties, he added.

"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 said.

Of the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington state, Obama said it is important for society to "go forward" and not have a situation where a large percentage of the population has broken a law for which only a few are punished.

At the same time, Obama said those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea are likely overstating the case.

"I also think that, when 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," he told The New Yorker.

"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 OK with that?"

Obama also said if he had a son he wouldn't want him to play professional football.

Remnick asked Obama whether he feels ambivalent about following the sport amid recent reports of concussions and early-onset dementia attributed to playing the game.

Obama said he wasn't. Still, he added, "I would not let my son play pro football."

Admittedly, the president said, there has now been so much press coverage on the concussion issue, it has become "a little bit of caveat emptor" for new players entering the game.

"These guys, they know what they're doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret," he said. "It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”

Obama has said in previous interviews that his biggest concern is for college players who have some of the same medical problems as the pros, but aren't paid.

NFL players have a union, he noted. "[T]hey're grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies."

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