History: DEA agrees to move marijuana to Schedule III

The federal war on marijuana is over.

Today, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officially decided to reclassify marijauna as medicinal use and low abuse potential.

For the first time since 1971, the federal government is seeking to end the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance – the same as drugs like heroin and PCP. Instead, the US intends to consider marijuana a Schedule III substance – on the same level as codeine.

The Associated Press appears to be the first to report the news, and Marijuana Moment picked it up.

The rescheduling follows a request that President Biden made to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in October 2022 to review the classification of marijuana under federal law. (Biden had simultaneously pardoned federal prisoners convicted of marijuana charges.)

In January, activists learned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had recommended that the DEA add marijuana to Schedule III.

The replan has immense consequences, from research opportunities to tax code reform for cannabis companies. However, it is far from a silver bullet: debt restructuring alone does not decriminalize or legalize cannabis; Nor does it make interstate commerce easier for the industry.

Read on to learn more about the importance of cannabis rescheduling, what it does, and what it leaves unresolved.


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What was so bad about Schedule 1?

Marijuana's Schedule I has proven disastrous over the decades. In 1971, with a strong push from hardline prohibitionist President Richard Nixon, the DEA added cannabis to the emerging list of Schedule 1 controlled substances. Authorities believed it had no medical value and had a high potential for abuse. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, cocaine and Quaaludes.

Police have arrested millions of Americans for marijuana since 1971. Drug arrests became the primary type of arrest by police, and marijuana became the primary type of drug arrest. Under the Schedule I designation, you could lose your children, your housing, your education, your job and more.

Additionally, scientists couldn't easily study cannabis. Additionally, a drug's Schedule 1 status prevents its legalization; Even today, states that allow the sale of recreational or medical marijuana are technically violating federal law.

President-Joe-Biden-with-marijuana-leafThe federal reform train has finally left the damn station. (Sasha Beck / Leafly)

What will change with Annex III?

The new classification of cannabis puts it on the same level as ketamine, Tylenol with codeine and testosterone.

By the DEA's own definition, Schedule III substances have “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” The new classification of cannabis puts it on the same level as ketamine, Tylenol with codeine and testosterone.

One of the most potentially consequential effects of a debt restructuring is also one of the strangest: Thanks to a provision in the federal tax code known as 280e, cannabis companies pay crippling taxes, sometimes in excess of 65-75%. This also prevents companies from being able to deduct a large portion of their expenses from taxes. Thanks to the debt restructuring, the 280e regulation no longer applies; it could open the door to new growth and investment.

Because it is a Schedule III substance, scientists also have easier access to research into cannabis. Additionally, as Marijuana Moment points out, rescheduling could loosen restrictions on federal employees' cannabis use.


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What remains unclear when planning is re-planned?

In short, reclassifying cannabis to Schedule III is just a step towards full legalization. It neither decriminalizes personal possession in prohibition states like Texas nor facilitates interstate commerce.

“This is a modest step given American voters’ strong support for comprehensive cannabis reform,” said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s leading cannabis policy reform organization.

What's next?

The DEA recommendation for a postponement is now open for public comment – likely for several months until the general election on November 4th. President Biden will likely campaign on the basis of promises kept. According to a survey, the incumbent president's approval of the new planning increased by 11 percentage points. Polls on medical marijuana are at 90% approval, while Gallup polls on legalization are at 70%.

Experts react to the news

Experts welcomed the DEA's rescheduling and looked back on the hard-fought victory. Surveys on legalization in the 1970s and surveys on medical legalization in the 1990s.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) stated in an email:

“If today’s reporting proves true, we will be one step closer to ending the failed war on drugs. Marijuana was introduced more than 50 years ago because of stigma, not science. The American people have made it clear in state after state that cannabis legalization is inevitable. The Biden-Harris administration is listening.”

Brian Vicente helped lead America toward legalization from Colorado and is a founding partner of the national cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, which is actively involved in the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform. He said the move was a big deal.

“This is a remarkable turnaround from the DEA, which has denied the true medicinal value of the cannabis plant for decades. While there are strong arguments for removing cannabis completely from federal drug lists, the new regulation represents a major step forward for sensible cannabis policy in our country. This action will have massive implications, both practically for the cannabis industry and symbolically for the reform movement. We have entered a new era of dialogue and politics around this historically maligned power plant.”

Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente LLP who follows the federal planning process closely, called the move “probably the best possible outcome given the realities of the federal administrative review process.” This historic action by the Biden administration has the potential to encourage Congress to finally pass legislation “To pass legislation that would legalize and regulate cannabis for medical use and for adults at the federal level.”

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