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DEA Moves To Reclassify Cannabis Under Schedule III in Historic Move, Report Indicates


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under the Biden administration, will move to reclassify cannabis under Schedule III, meaning its medical benefits will be recognized by the federal government, the Associated Press first reported today. By all accounts, it’s a historic move by the DEA and the federal government as the plant was wrongly classified as a substance with no accepted medical value, for decades.

The DEA’s move to reclassify cannabis must first be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and for the first time in 50 years would recognize the medical uses of cannabis. The move to Schedule III was recently recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). By definition, Schedule I substances are criminally prohibited under federal law because they possess a “high potential” for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use. 

Leadership from The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) broke down the pros and cons of Schedule III and why this move is so historic.

“While the DEA’s decision fails to go far enough, it represents the first time the agency has ever abandoned its ‘Flat Earth’ position toward cannabis and acknowledged that the substance possesses legitimate therapeutic utility and that it doesn’t belong in the same federal classification as heroin,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano tells High Times

It won’t erase the discord between federal and state law fully, however. Armentano continues, “Unfortunately, this move—if and when finalized—continues to perpetuate the growing divide between federal marijuana laws and the marijuana laws of most states. It also fails to align with public opinion, as most Americans would like to see cannabis treated more like alcohol than like anabolic steroids.”

Fifty Years Under Schedule I

For the Scientific American, David Downs reported in 2016 that disgraced former Attorney General John Mitchell of the Nixon administration placed cannabis in this category as part of the classification or “scheduling” of all drugs under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

U.S. leaders also provided comments on the DEA announcement.

“If today’s reporting proves true, we will be one step closer to ending the failed war on drugs,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer said in an emailed statement obtained by High Times. “Marijuana was scheduled more than 50 years ago based on stigma, not science. The American people have made clear in state after state that cannabis legalization is inevitable. The Biden-Harris Administration is listening.” 

According to the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), moving cannabis to Schedule III is expected to lift the unfair burden of 280E on thousands of state-legal cannabis businesses. The Legal Intelligencer reported that Schedule III would remove the prohibitions against tax deductions under tax code 280E.

“Moving marijuana out of its absurd classification as a Schedule I drug is long overdue and we applaud the administration for finally acknowledging the therapeutic value that has been widely accepted by the medical community and millions of medical cannabis patients for decades,” said CEO, Aaron Smith. “While this is undoubtedly a very positive first step, rescheduling will not end federal marijuana prohibition and doesn’t harmonize federal law with the laws allowing some form of legal cannabis in the vast majority of the states. In order for this move to be meaningful on the ground, we need clear enforcement guidelines issued to the DEA and FDA that would ensure the tens of thousands of state-licensed businesses responsibly serving cannabis to adults are not subject to sanctions or criminal prosecution under federal laws.”

“Further, it’s imperative that Congress build upon this development by passing comprehensive legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and forge a new regulatory framework for whole plant cannabis products.” added Smith.

“The goal of any federal cannabis policy reform ought to be to address the existing, untenable divide between federal marijuana policy and the cannabis laws of the majority of US states,” he said. “Rescheduling the cannabis plant to Schedule III fails to adequately address this conflict, as existing state legalization laws—both adult use and medical—will continue to be in conflict with federal regulations, thereby perpetuating the existing divide between state and federal marijuana policies.”

Cannabis Industry Reacts

The US Cannabis Council (USCC) aims to be the voice of America’s regulated cannabis industry. “The US Cannabis Council strongly supports the move by the DEA to reclassify cannabis at a lower level under the Controlled Substances Act,” USCC Executive Director Edward Conklin said in a statement. “President Biden and his Administration should be commended for recognizing that cannabis was wrongly classified as a Schedule I controlled substance and pursuing an administrative review to reclassify it.

“The proposed DEA rule implements the recommendations of the Department of Health and Human Services, which were based on an extensive scientific review by the Food and Drug Administration. Once finalized, the reclassification of cannabis to Schedule III will mark the most significant federal cannabis reform in modern history and place the nation on a clear path toward our ultimate goal of federal legalization…”

High Times also received a high volume of comments from cannabis business leadership.

“Today’s decision by the DEA to reschedule cannabis to Schedule III is one of the most monumental developments that cannabis has seen in years and is a crucial step in undoing the harms caused by the failed and discriminatory War on Drugs,” said Matt Darin, CEO of Curaleaf. “We are thankful to President Biden and his Administration for helping to push this process forward. This ruling reflects evolving attitudes towards the plant, recognizing its well-documented therapeutic value and medicinal applications. It’s very clear that the country is ready for this step, given that 92% of Americans are now in support of legalization in some form. As the cannabis industry undergoes regulatory transformations, Curaleaf remains committed to collaborating with regulatory authorities, industry members, and the broader community to ensure the responsible and sustainable growth of the cannabis sector. The future for the cannabis industry is real and we look forward to seeing what 2024 has in store.”

“AYR Wellness applauds the historic proposal by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s to reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, in alignment with the science-backed recommendation made earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services,” David Goubert, President & CEO of AYR Wellness.

It’s now up to the OMB at the White House to give final approval of the DEA’s move to reschedule cannabis.

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