WASHINGTON – After 50 years on the federal government’s most restrictive drug list, marijuana may get a reprieve. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) has recommended a reclassification of marijuana from a federal Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance.
In a letter in late August, HSS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levins recommended the change to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has the final authority to classify drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA says it is now conducting its review.
The process started last October, when President Joe Biden ordered an administrative review of federal marijuana scheduling. As a Schedule I drug, marijuana is in the same category as heroin, methamphetamine and LSD, among other drugs. A Schedule I drug is deemed to have a high potential for abuse and to be of no medical value.
Marijuana’s Schedule I status remained in effect at the federal level even as 38 states, three territories and the District of Columbia allowed medical cannabis use. Twenty-three states, including New Jersey, have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use.
The Schedule I status of marijuana products places emerging legal cannabis industries in many states under serious handicaps. Retail cannabis businesses find it hard to get financial institutions to provide a range of services, often making cannabis retail a largely cash proposition. Further, with marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the industry does not have access to federal tax deductions, which are denied to Schedule I and II substances.
Advocates of federal decriminalization of marijuana argue for descheduling marijuana completely. Reclassifying marijuana to Schedule III would not make it legal at the federal level, but a move from Schedule I to III would represent a major concession and might offer support for moves in Congress toward decriminalization.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at firstname.lastname@example.org.