Federal Health Agency Calls For Easing Restrictions On Marijuana

A top official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana under federal drug laws in a move that would ease restrictions on the drug. In an August 29 letter from HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine to Drug Enforcement Administration head Anne Milgram cited by Bloomberg News, the health agency recommended that cannabis be removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Under the recommendation, cannabis would be rescheduled under Schedule III, a less restrictive classification that would ease research into cannabis and likely give a boost to the beleaguered regulated marijuana industry.

The new HHS recommendation to reschedule marijuana under the CSA follows an extensive scientific review of cannabis conducted by the Food and Drug Administration that was prompted by a directive from President Joe Biden in October 2022 for his administration to review the Schedule I classification of cannabis under federal law, which indicates that marijuana has no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. At the same time, he issued an executive order pardoning those who have been convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law and called on governors to take similar action at the state level.

“The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance,” Biden said at the time, “the same as heroin and LSD and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense.”

DEA Must Approve Recommendation

The HHS recommendation to ease federal restrictions on cannabis is not binding and must first be approved by the DEA. If the agency follows the recommendation to reschedule marijuana to Schedule III, cannabis would be classified alongside other drugs including ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone and products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dose. Marijuana would still be prohibited, but restrictions on research that could lead to cannabis-based medicines would be eased. Marijuana Moment confirmed the HHS recommendation on Wednesday after contacting officials at the DEA.

“We can confirm DEA received a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services providing its findings and recommendation on marijuana scheduling, pursuant to President Biden’s request for a review,” a DEA spokesperson told the online cannabis news outlet. “As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA. DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review.”

After news of the HHS recommendation to reschedule marijuana, the White House said the review of cannabis would continue as planned.

“The administration’s process is an independent process led by HHS, led by the Department of Justice and guided by evidence … we will let that process move forward,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement to Reuters.

Cannabis Industry Lauds Call To Reschedule Marijuana

Wednesday’s revelation that Biden administration health officials have recommended rescheduling cannabis under federal drug laws was lauded by representatives of the regulated marijuana industry. If the recommendation is approved, some of the biggest implications of federal Schedule I prohibition, such as high taxes and a lack of banking services for cannabis businesses, would disappear or be eased significantly.

“For half a century, cannabis has been inappropriately classified with no real scientific basis to the detriment of patients and those persecuted under the misguided drug war,” Saphira Galoob, executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable, said in a statement from the industry group. “With the conclusion of the scientific review by HHS, this historic recommendation to lessen federal restrictions on cannabis and affirming that cannabis has medical value is a major win for patients and should help undo decades of misguided drug policy.

“At the end of this process, if cannabis ultimately is moved to Schedule III or lower, it will also alleviate the overwhelming tax burden currently facing legal cannabis businesses, which along with the lack of access to capital, is strangling the regulated industry to the benefit of the illicit market,” Galoob continued.

George Archos, founder and CEO of Verano, a company with 132 cannabis dispensaries in 13 states that have legalized marijuana, says he is “excited to hear the news that the Department of Health and Human Services is calling for the rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule III.”

“For far too long, cannabis prohibition and its outdated status as a Schedule I substance have unduly harmed countless individuals affected by the failed War on Drugs,” Archos writes in an email, adding, “It’s about damn time.”


Back To Top