The Justice Department has published a proposed rule in the US Federal Register to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Cannabis has been classified as a Schedule I controlled substance since the creation of the Controlled Substances Act some 54 years ago. By definition, Schedule I substances possess “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment,” and “lack accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

The proposed rule seeks to “transfer marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule III of the CSA, consistent with the view of the Department of Health and Human Services that marijuana has a currently accepted medical use as well as HHS’s views about marijuana’s abuse potential and level of physical or psychological dependence.”

In its review, HHS identified: “No safety concerns [that] … would indicate that the medical use of marijuana poses unacceptably high safety risks for the indications where there is some credible scientific evidence supporting its therapeutic use.” Department officials added, “The risks to the public health posed by marijuana are low compared to other drugs of abuse,” such as benzodiazepines — a Schedule IV drug, or alcohol, which is unscheduled.

Publication of the proposed rule begins a period of public comment, which extends through July 22, 2024. Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal using the reference: ‘Docket No. DEA-1362.’

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “NORML is in a unique position to mobilize interested parties to provide their perspectives throughout the public comment period and we will be encouraging advocates and experts to do so in the coming weeks. In particular, it is important that the voices of both physicians and patients are heard and considered, as the Justice Department weighed the real-world experiences of doctors and their patients in medical cannabis states when making their recommendation to reclassify.”

Armentano continued: “Additionally, NORML will be submitting our own comprehensive comments substantiating the evidentiary record that cannabis possesses accepted medical utility and comparatively low dependence liability. We will also be addressing a number of the issues raised by political opponents with respect to cannabis’ impact on public health, making it clear that these concerns do not warrant the continued classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance.”

He concluded, “While NORML ultimately favors descheduling rather than rescheduling, we understand that reclassification is associated both symbolic and tangible benefits to the cannabis community, both in the short-term and the long-term.”

Interested parties also have until June 20th to request legal hearings to further debate the issue.

According to a slip opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, HHS’s recommendation to reclassify marijuana are not binding upon the US Drug Enforcement Administration. However, the agency “must continue to accord HHS’s scientific and medical determination significant deference” throughout the administrative process.

Historically, the agency has rejected every prior petition that sought to remove marijuana from Schedule I.

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