Is marijuana no less dangerous than alcohol?

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a recent interview -- President Barack Obama said he doesn't feel that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.

Although the drug is still placed in the same category as drugs like ecstasy and heroin when it comes to federal law, some feel the drug isn't as socially unacceptable as it has been in the past.

"As the President said, it can be a vice, it's a bad habit, it's a weakness of character, but is it something that we need to have in the criminal justice system? I don't think so," said Amber Langston, who is on the board of directors of Show-Me-Cannabis, a group pushing for the legalization of marijuana in Missouri.

"Now is it totally benign? Probably not, it's a drug, every drug affects everyone differently," Langston added.

She says she agrees with the President's comment that in terms of its impact on the individual consumer, pot is less dangerous than alcohol.

"There are lots of things that adults can do responsibly, and they should have the choice to do that responsibly," she said.

But marijuana still has many critics, and Marla Looper, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor, says the President's message is confusing for children.

"To think that one is better than the other is not good for our kids," said Looper. "For those that are not addicted, or are not carrying the addictive gene, marijuana probably isn't harmful. But for those who have that underlying addictive quality, it would be quite easy to go to crack, meth, whatever it may be."

Looper says she deals with people with drug and alcohol addiction daily.

"For us to think that marijuana is not really as harmful as something else, well, what about that one kid who does get into a car accident because he's smoking pot," Looper added.

"The fact that some people may end up abusing it, is not a reason for us to continue to use this failed policy of prohibition," said Langston.

Langston feels the government should be focusing on making laws that treat users fairly. Looper, on the other hand, says legalizing marijuana could lead to other things.

"It's a gateway," said Looper, "I'm meeting clients that are dependent on marijuana, but they're also dependent on sleeping pills, they drink a lot, they're doing cocaine."

Langston says that the stigma behind marijuana's gateway drug status isn't supported statistically.

"While it may be true that people used cannabis earlier than they might use other substances, the facts don't weigh out that people who use it tend to go to those other substances," said Langston.

Looper says that if marijuana becomes more widely accepted, abuse statistics may change.

"Alcohol is the number one, and the most socially accepted, so if marijuana becomes socially accepted, those statistics may change a little bit," Looper said.

When it comes to federal law, marijuana remains a schedule-1 controlled substance. The designation means it's a drug with high potential for abuse but no accepted medical use. The White House also says President Obama does not support changing that status.

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