In ‘monumental’ shift, Biden says DOJ officially moving to reschedule marijuana

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is officially moving to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, a less dangerous category than Schedule I in which it is now classified, the Biden administration announced yesterday.

Biden called the development “monumental” in a video posted to social media. “Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach to marijuana. And I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” Biden said.

Under the re-categorization, marijuana would be moved out of the Schedule I drug category under the Controlled Substances Act – those considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Defining Schedule III

Under Schedule III are substances with “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Schedule III drugs include ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone and some substances with a limited amount of codeine.

The DOJ will now publish an official notice that opens a two-month public comment period on the proposal, after which the DOJ’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will assign an administrative law judge to make a final recommendation on rescheduling.

The reclassification – and the first admission by the government that marijuana has medical value – is expected to have a significant impact on research into the potential therapeutic benefits of THC. It is also expected to lead to changes in how marijuana is treated by federal law enforcement agencies.

Pot not legal federally

Despite being a historic shift, the changes will not federally legalize marijuana, which some U.S. lawmakers lamented. While moving cannabis to Schedule III “would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system,” a group of senators and congressmen wrote in a letter to the DEA last month.

At a press briefing about the rescheduling Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that Biden has pardoned “a record number of federal offenses for simply possessing marijuana,” and that “his actions today further his commitment to reverse longstanding injustices and to right historical wrongs.”

“The reality is while white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” she noted.

End to prosecutions urged

Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who has pushed for decriminalization of cannabis, said ending the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses should be a natural next step.

“It’s official, the Biden administration has taken a historic step toward ending reefer madness and bringing common sense to federal cannabis policy,” Wyden said. “Now it’s time to follow the lead of 24 states and more than half the country by decriminalizing and putting in place smart federal regulations.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) welcomed Thursday’s announcement by the White House, but said more progress is needed.

“We commend President Biden for taking this important first step toward a more rational marijuana policy,” NCIA CEO and co-founder Aaron Smith said. “Now it’s time for Congress to enact legislation that would protect our industry, uphold public safety, and advance the will of the voters who overwhelmingly support making cannabis legal for adults.”

The White House announcement comes about two weeks after the Justice Department confirmed that the DEA was moving to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug.

The Congressional Research Service said in a report that even if DEA enacts the rescheduling, it will not bring state markets into compliance with federal law. Congress still has the authority to address the federal-state cannabis policy gap before or after the rescheduling is enacted.

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