U.S. DEA, Marijuana, Drug

U.S. DEA Seeks to Ease Restrictions On Marijuana, Reclassify As ‘Less Dangerous Drug’

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug in a groundbreaking move that could shift drug policies implemented across the country.

Contingent on a review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the proposal would recognize the medical uses of cannabis — not recreational use — and acknowledge it as having minimal potential usage of abuse over dangerous drugs like heroin and LSD. “Today, the Attorney General circulated a proposal to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III,” Justice Department Director of Public Affairs Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement. 

“Once published by the Federal Register, it will initiate a formal rulemaking process as prescribed by Congress in the Controlled Substances Act.”

After OMB signs off, the DEA — a component of the Department of Justice (DOJ) — will take public comment and move marijuana to Schedule III, ranking it with ketamine and some anabolic steroids, after a recommendation from the federal Health and Human Services Department. Following the public comment period and review by an administrative judge, the agency will eventually publish the final ruling.

Marijuana has remained on Schedule I — defined as a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — since 1971. Schedule III substances include Tylenol with codeine, steroids, and testosterone. 

Rescheduling cannabis would mean the drug would be studied and researched to identify core medical benefits and bring potential opportunities for pharmaceutical conglomerates to get involved with the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

The move would also eliminate tax burdens for businesses in states where the drug is legal. For the $34 billion cannabis industry, the IRS could eliminate code Section 280E, which prohibits legal cannabis companies from deductions that would be ordinary business expenses.

Critics like former DEA Deputy Administrator Jack Riley described the move as unnecessary, citing concerns about harmful side effects, such as cannabis being a possible “gateway drug,” leading to the use of other drugs. President and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former Obama administration adviser, Kevin Sabet, said the decision is “the result of a politicized process” and argued it “will be devastating for America’s kids,” who he feels will be hit with attractive advertising and promotion. 

“Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug sends the message that marijuana is less addictive and dangerous now than ever before. In reality, today’s highly potent, super-strength marijuana is more addictive and linked with psychosis and other mental illnesses, IQ loss, and other problems,” he said. 

Schedule III drugs are classified as controlled substances with rules and regulations. People who traffic the drug without permission could still face federal criminal prosecution.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer argues that marijuana should be treated in the same context as alcohol. “While this rescheduling announcement is a historic step forward, I remain strongly committed to continuing to work on legislation like the SAFER Banking Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which federally deschedules cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act,” Schumer said in a statement. 

“Congress must do everything we can to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and address longstanding harms caused by the War on Drugs.”

The move comes years in the making after President Joe Biden worked with the Department of Health and Human Services in October 2022 to review marijuana’s classification. He even touched on it during his State of the Union address in early 2024, referring to marijuana and noting the federal review process. “No one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said.

Biden and a team of lawmakers from both political parties have pushed for the DEA’s decision since marijuana has become decriminalized and accepted, specifically among younger people. With 2024 being a highly competitive election year, the announcement could help Biden secure the White House with the support of young voters. 

A Gallup 2023 poll found that 70% of adults support marijuana legalization, the highest level recorded by the polling firm and more than double the approximately 30% who supported it in 2000.