“The president was very clear—he wants this done as quickly as possible.”

By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in Tampa Friday that he intends for his agency to move “as quickly as we can” to comply with President Joe Biden’s directive to review the decades-old policy of listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

“I think you’re going to find that we’re going to move as quickly as we can but, at the end of the day science is going to take us to a solution,” Becerra told reporters in Tampa after concluding a “Meet and Greet” event with mostly Latino seniors regarding the reduction in prescription drug prices for Medicare patients that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act passed this summer.

That directive to review cannabis’s status was part of Biden’s announcement on marijuana reform released on Thursday, which includes calling on the Department of Justice to develop a process to pardon potentially thousands of people who have federal convictions for marijuana possession.

Becerra said that the review of marijuana’s federal scheduling status will be tasked to the Food and Drug Administration, and that he has already spoken with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf about starting that process.

“The president was very clear—he wants this done as quickly as possible,” Becerra said. “It’s not new science, but there’s lot of information to gather because in many states marijuana has been legalized for either medical purposes or recreational purposes.”

Controlled Substances Act

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, along with much more dangerous drugs such as LSD and heroin. Schedule I is the most prohibitive classification, defined as drugs with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The listing of cannabis as a Schedule I drug has discouraged banks and other financial institutions from maintaining relationships with such businesses. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, only about 11 percent of all U.S. banks and 4 percent of all U.S. credit unions “are actively providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses.”

Currently, 19 states have legalized recreational cannabis and another five will decide on Election Day whether to allow adult use, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Another 18 states, including Florida, allow legal use of cannabis for medical purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In addition, Biden called upon every governor in the country to review state convictions for marijuana possession. Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) office did not immediately respond to the Phoenix’s request for comment.

South Florida Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones wrote a letter to DeSantis on Friday requesting that he “consider extending a similar policy towards citizens here in Florida.”

This story was first published by Florida Phoenix.

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