DEA Is "Likely" to Reclassify Cannabis As Schedule III Drug, Congressional Report Says
Federal rescheduling would solve many cannabis banking issues, but recreational pot would remain illegal.
Published on September 19, 2023

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The DEA is “likely” to approve a historic recommendation to reschedule cannabis to a less restrictive category of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), according to a recent Congressional report. 

Late last month, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine sent a letter to the DEA urging the agency to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug. Cannabis has been classified as a Schedule I drug, a category of the CSA reserved for addictive drugs with no medical value, since 1970. The HHS report officially asks the DEA to move cannabis to Schedule III, a category that includes ketamine, steroids, and other drugs that have accepted medical uses but still have some potential for abuse.

The DEA still seems to be pretty out of touch when it comes to weed, so advocates were somewhat skeptical that they would approve the HHS recommendation. But a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggests that the agency may actually heed the Biden administration's advice. The CRS report noted that the DEA has already approved a small number of cannabis medicines, including marinol, a synthetic form of THC used to treat cancer symptoms.

Based on these earlier approvals, the CRS believes that “it could be likely that DEA will reschedule marijuana according to HHS’s recommendation.” The report also acknowledges that a federal reclassification “would have broad implications for federal policy. Also, this move would have significant implications for state medical marijuana programs and users of medical marijuana, but fewer implications for state recreational marijuana programs and those who use marijuana recreationally.”

The CRS report explains that if the DEA were to approve this historic recommendation, “those who manufacture, distribute, dispense, and possess medical marijuana may now be able to do so lawfully. States' medical marijuana programs may now be able to comply with the CSA, and will still be subject to CSA/DEA criminal and regulatory control, federal public health laws such as the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and agricultural laws such as the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946.”

Moving cannabis to Schedule III would remove many of the current federal restrictions that are making life difficult for the medical marijuana industry. State-legal medical pot companies would finally be allowed to open bank accounts, list on the US stock market, and deduct standard business expenses from their federal taxes. And since researchers would face fewer restrictions blocking them from conducting their research, reclassification could kick off a whole new wave of weed research.

The reclassification would also be good news for medical cannabis users. CRS notes that anyone who uses medical marijuana legally could potentially be allowed to live in public housing, get a visa, or legally purchase and possess firearms. Federal employers, including all branches of the US military, might also choose to relax their hiring policies to accommodate employees who are legally using medical cannabis.

Schedule III drugs are only legal when approved by a licensed physician, though, so recreational cannabis would remain completely illegal. Adult-use cannabis businesses would still be blocked from opening bank accounts or taking tax deductions and could theoretically even be raided by federal law enforcement. Recreational cannabis users wouldn't be allowed to buy guns or access public housing either, and employers would have more leeway in discriminating against them.

The CRS also points out that Congress still has the power to reschedule cannabis all on its own, regardless of what the DEA decides to do. If lawmakers were actually able to compromise on one of the federal legalization bills that have recently been proposed, the report notes that Congress would be able to: “(1) place marijuana on one of the other schedules of controlled substances, (2) create another schedule or separate classification for marijuana under the CSA, or (3) remove marijuana as a controlled substance altogether.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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