U.S. Justice Department Proposes Reclassification of Marijuana

In a historic move, the U.S. Justice Department has proposed reclassifying marijuana to acknowledge its medical use and lower potential for abuse compared to some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. The proposed rule, submitted to the Federal Register, seeks to shift cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids. This reclassification would mark a significant change in U.S. drug policy.

This move follows a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services, which conducted a review of marijuana’s status at the request of President Biden in 2022. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will now open the proposal for public comment, initiating a potentially lengthy process. If approved, this change would not legalize marijuana for recreational use but would reflect its recognized medical benefits.

As of January 3, 2024, only 12 out of 38 labs in California met the new testing requirements, according to the DCC’s website (including Purity Medical Labs). Non-compliant labs can still test other products, but they are currently restricted from testing cannabis flower, the most popular category of legal weed.

The Department of Health and Human Services data indicate that while marijuana has a high prevalence of abuse, its potential is similar to other Schedule III substances. The proposed rule underscores this comparison.

President Biden has also taken steps to address the broader implications of marijuana convictions. He has pardoned thousands of individuals federally convicted of simple marijuana possession and has urged state and local leaders to follow suit. This policy shift is part of an effort to rectify the long-standing inequities caused by previous drug laws.

Biden emphasized the importance of this change in a video statement, highlighting its role in correcting historical injustices associated with marijuana prohibition. He called the move “monumental” and reaffirmed his commitment to righting these wrongs.

The proposed reclassification is expected to have significant implications for the marijuana industry. Easing federal regulations could reduce the tax burden on marijuana businesses, which can be as high as 70%. It could also facilitate more research into marijuana’s medical uses, which has been challenging under its current classification as a Schedule I substance.

Despite the potential benefits, some critics argue that the reclassification does not go far enough, advocating for marijuana to be treated similarly to alcohol. Others caution that the decision appears driven more by politics than by science.

As the DEA moves forward with the public comment period and potential review by an administrative judge, the future of marijuana regulation in the United States remains under scrutiny. However, this proposed change represents a significant step towards aligning federal policy with the evolving landscape of state-level marijuana legalization and the growing recognition of its medical benefits.