DEA to reschedule marijuana, marking historic shift in U.S. drug policy

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has agreed with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to Schedule III, recognizing its medical applications and lower potential for abuse compared to other dangerous substances.

The historic move, following years of pressure and a lengthy scientific review, could have significant ripple effects across the United States.

While marijuana will not be legalized for recreational use, the rescheduling carries major implications. It would allow cannabis businesses to take federal tax deductions currently barred by the IRS, potentially boosting the already thriving $30 billion industry.

“While this rescheduling announcement is a historic step forward, I remain strongly committed to continuing to work on legislation like the SAFER Banking Act as well as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which federally deschedules cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. “Congress must do everything we can to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and address longstanding harms caused by the War on Drugs.”

Opening for research

Additionally, research barriers imposed on scientists studying Schedule I substances would be lifted, paving the way for more in-depth exploration of marijuana’s potential medical benefits.

“There exists widespread, current experience with medical use of the substance by [health care practitioners] operating in accordance with implemented jurisdiction-authorized programs, where medical use is recognized by entities that regulate the practice of medicine,” HHS said in a statement, highlighting the more than 30,000 healthcare professionals utilizing cannabis for treatment in 43 U.S. jurisdictions.

‘Risks are low’

HHS also concluded that “the risks to the public health posed by marijuana are low compared to other drugs of abuse,” with overdose deaths ranking significantly lower than those associated with substances like heroin and cocaine.

This decision aligns with the growing public support for marijuana legalization. A recent Gallup poll found 70% of adults in favor, reflecting a significant shift in societal attitudes.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” President Biden acknowledged in December 2022, calling for a review of federal marijuana laws and pardoning thousands convicted of simple possession.

Still under DEA

While the DEA’s move represents a major step forward, some potential challenges remain. Critics argue that Schedule III classification still subjects marijuana to DEA regulations, potentially burdening the cannabis industry with strict reporting requirements. Additionally, the U.S. has international treaty obligations that may complicate the rescheduling process.

Despite these uncertainties, the DEA’s decision marks a turning point in U.S. drug policy. It acknowledges the evolving scientific and public understanding of marijuana, potentially paving the way for further reforms and a more nuanced approach to cannabis regulation in the years to come.

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