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Feds move to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug: reports


DEA, HHS on board to change cannabis status in national drug policy.

medical marijuana doctor prescription bottles: © Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com

© Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will reschedule cannabis from its current position as a Schedule I drug, the most strictly controlled category of controlled substances, to a Schedule III drug, according to national news reports. The long-awaited announcement is expected to affect various aspects of the industry nationally, including new opportunities for businesses, research, and regulations. Currently, more than half of states permit cannabis for medical use and nearly half for recreational use. Recent surveys have indicated consistent support for cannabis legalization.

According to the reports, cannabis would be reclassified as a Schedule III drug, though the move will not legalize cannabis for recreational use. In August 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended this change in scheduling, which also included an acknowledgement of the medical uses of cannabis, according to an NBC report. In response to the recommendation from the HHS, a DEA spokesperson stated, “As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA. DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review.” The announcement is a major event in the 50 years since cannabis was classified as a Schedule I substance, which, alongside heroin and LSD, are considered to have no medical value and have high potential for abuse.

Cannabis Science and Technology, a sister publication of Medical Economics, has been covering updates on the scheduling of cannabis since 2022 when the Biden Administration had originally requested that “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” The request set the chain of events in motion that eventually led to today’s most recent development.

Last month, Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable discussion at the White House to discuss cannabis policy and its impacts in the US, and two weeks prior, cannabis policy was mentioned in President Biden’s State of the Union address.

According to news sources, the rescheduling proposal from the DEA must be first reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), then a public comment period managed by the DEA will commence, and after an administrative judge review, the final ruling on cannabis rescheduling will be issued by the DEA--a process that could take several months. However, the ruling still has the potential to be overturned by Congress, though the current makeup of the Senate, with Democrats holding a 51-seat majority, is not expected to be an obstacle.

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