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Addictions counselor: Marijuana and alcohol addictions different, but both dangerous

Addictions counselor: Marijuana and alcohol addictions different, but both dangerous

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - President Barack Obama is sharing his views on marijuana -- but not everyone likes or agrees with what he says.

"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 told New Yorker Editor David Remnick. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."  

When it comes to addiction, Jon Cleckler, a licensed addictions counselor, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that he disagrees with the president's statement.

Cleckler explained that marijuana and alcohol involve two different types of addiction -- psychological and physiological.  

"Psychological addiction, the addiction that's normally involved with marijuana use, can be as debilitating as any physiological addiction," Cleckler said.  "I would not make the argument that pot and psychological addiction is less problematic than physiological addiction."

Cleckler said that sometimes psychological addictions can be worse because the addict is in deep denial, and it can be harder to realize indirect consequences.  

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It's legal for those 21 and older. Only about 22% of adult women and 11% of adult men are lifetime alcohol abstainers.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 substance -- the same category as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.  As such, comprehensive data on the drug's use and misuse in the United States is limited.

Because of limited unbiased medical research, Cleckler said it's hard to quantatively determine if marijuana is less of a problem than alcohol.  

Despite the president's remarks, this is not a policy change, according to the Obama administration.  

In August, Obama's Justice Department announced it would not challenge legalization in Colorado and Washington, and instead focus federal enforcement on trafficking cases and preventing pot from getting in the hands of kids. Prosecutors are now required to focus on distinct enforcement priorities that also include preventing driving while high and forbidding the cultivation of marijuana on public lands.

In the New Yorker, Obama said Colorado and Washington's laws were "important" since they decriminalized a commonly used substance. But he also said the laws could raise questions for other illegal substances.

"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?" Obama wondered. "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?"

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