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Biden Announces Schedule III Cannabis Reclassification

United States and cannabis

The United States Announces Cannabis Reclassification: A Step Toward Drug Policy Reform

On April 30, 2024, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that his administration will reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III controlled substances. This decision seeks to end the long-standing federal war on marijuana and correct historical injustices related to its criminalization.

Reclassification of Cannabis: from Schedule I to Schedule III

Cannabis was first banned at the federal level in 1937, with the Marihuana Tax Act. A decision taken with racist undertones, according to critics, since at the time cannabis was associated with the jazz scene, African-American communities and Mexican immigrants.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act officially classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive category that includes heroin and LSD, substances considered to have “no medical value” and a high potential for abuse.

The drug war of the 1970s disproportionately impacted minorities, before the medical marijuana movement gained momentum in the 1990s. In 2012, states began legalizing recreational cannabis for adults, and cannabis is now a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. More than half of the states have legalized its recreational and medicinal use, including California and New York.

The classification of substances is under constant debate, especially with the emergence of new synthetic drugs. What seems clear, based on scientific and objective data, is that cannabis should not be on the most restrictive list of controlled substances. And that is what this reclassification proposal seeks to amend.

The fact that cannabis is on Schedule I is not only inappropriate, but also complicates access to banking services, federal funding for medical marijuana research, and interstate commerce.

With President Biden’s announcement, cannabis will be moved to Schedule III, a category that includes substances such as ketamine and codeine painkillers, recognized as having “accepted medical use” and moderate to low potential for abuse. This reclassification recognizes the medical potential of marijuana and will reduce restrictions on its research and medical use.

President’s Motivations and Statements

Biden stressed the importance of this measure to rectify past injustices caused by the criminalization of cannabis. In his statement, he asserted that“no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana.”

The President also noted that the current classification of marijuana is more restrictive than that of substances such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are responsible for a serious overdose crisis in the United States.

Biden mentioned that this measure adds to his previous efforts to pardon those convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors and remove barriers to housing, employment and small business loans.

Scientific and Administrative Evaluation of Cannabis

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have reviewed the scientific evidence on the medical use and abuse potential of marijuana, concluding that its reclassification is necessary.

HHS determined that marijuana has a “currently accepted medical use” (“CAMU”), which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can no longer deny. This conclusion is based on the review of several studies that support the use of cannabis to treat conditions such as pain, anorexia, and nausea and vomiting, without presenting a high safety risk.

Reclassification Impacts

The new Schedule III classification will reduce barriers to scientific research, allowing researchers to more easily study the benefits and risks of medical cannabis.

In addition, cannabis businesses will be able to deduct expenses from their taxes, eliminating significant tax burdens. This development is complemented by the recent push for the Marijuana Banking Bill, which seeks to facilitate access to banking services for cannabis businesses in the United States, improving the operational and growth capacity of the sector.

However, the new cannabis classification does not decriminalize or legalize marijuana at the federal level, nor does it facilitate interstate commerce. There is still a long way to go to achieve comprehensive cannabis reform.

The reclassification proposal will be published in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period.

With this change, the Biden-Harris administration marks a significant step toward modernizing drug policies and correcting decades of punitive policies that have negatively impacted many communities.

Next steps

Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has received a recommendation to reclassify marijuana. Following publication in the Federal Register, a 60-day public comment period is open.

After reviewing all available information, the DEA will make a final recommendation on the reclassification of marijuana, in a process that may include a hearing before a judge. The Department of Justice will make the final decision on the new classification of cannabis, based on the DEA’s recommendation and the scientific evidence and comments received.

If the decision is in favor of reclassification, which everything indicates and is expected to be the case, marijuana will be officially moved to Schedule III.

Next steps

This historic reclassification could pave the way for future reforms and increase pressure on Congress to move toward full legalization of cannabis in the United States. Hopefully, the news will serve as a catalyst for other countries to review and reform cannabis regulation, promote the industry, and encourage open debate about the plant. Let’s not forget that cannabis is still heavily criminalized around the world.

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