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Feds move to reclassify marijuana


Process begins to change drug from schedule I to schedule III under Controlled Substances Act.

medical marijuana doctor prescription bottles: © Africa Studio -

© Africa Studio -

The U.S. Department of Justice has begun the process of reclassifying marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

DOJ announced Attorney General Merrick Garland has submitted to the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking to start the formal rulemaking process. Marijuana has been classified as a schedule I drug, meaning it has no current medical use but with high potential for abuse or addiction, since Congress enacted CSA in 1970. Schedule III drugs have low to moderate potential for abuse or addiction but are less dangerous than schedule I or schedule II drugs; they usually are prescription drugs, not over-the-counter, according to American Addiction Centers.

President Joe Biden called the move “monumental” to reverse longstanding inequities, in a 45-second video statement published on X, formerly Twitter, and republished by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“This is monumental,” the president said. “Today my administration took a major step to reclassify marijuana from a schedule I drug to schedule III. It's an important move toward reversing longstanding inequities. Today's announcement builds on the work we've already done to pardon record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana. And it adds to the action we've taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and so much more for tens of thousands of Americans. Look folks, no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana, period. Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach to marijuana, and I'm committed to writing those wrongs. You have my word on it.”

A leader of NORML said the move was a good one, but there are issues.

“This recommendation validates the experiences of tens of millions of Americans, as well as tens of thousands of physicians, who have long recognized that cannabis possesses legitimate medical utility,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “But it still falls well short of the changes necessary to bring federal marijuana policy into the 21st century. Specifically, the proposed change fails to harmonize federal marijuana policy with the cannabis laws of most U.S. states, particularly the 24 states that have legalized its use and sale to adults.”

The 92-page notice of proposed rulemaking did not appear to propose broad legalization for recreational use of marijuana.

“If marijuana is transferred into schedule III, the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, and possession of marijuana would remain subject to the applicable criminal prohibitions of the CSA,” it said. “Any drugs containing a substance within the CSA’s definition of “marijuana” would also remain subject to the applicable prohibitions in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).”

Upon publication, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

In October 2022, President Joe Biden asked Garland and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to begin a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. HHS made its recommendations in August and Garland sought legal advice of DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel on the rulemaking process.

“In light of HHS’ medical and scientific determinations, and OLC’s legal advice, the attorney general exercised his authority under the law to initiate the rulemaking process to transfer marijuana to schedule III,” the DOJ announcement said.

“The rescheduling of a controlled substance follows a formal rulemaking procedure that requires notice to the public, and an opportunity for comment and an administrative hearing,” the DOJ announcement said. “This proposal starts the process, where the Drug Enforcement Administration will gather and consider information and views submitted by the public, in order to make a determination about the appropriate schedule. During that process, and until a final rule is published, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance.”

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