Joe Biden marijuana

President Joe Biden has formally endorsed a proposal by the Justice Department to reclassify ‘botanical cannabis’ from Schedule I to Schedule III under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

By definition, Schedule I substances are criminally prohibited by federal law because they possess a “high potential for abuse“ and have “no currently accepted medical use in the United States.” Cannabis has remained classified as a Schedule I controlled substance since 1970.

In a video message, he called the proposed scheduling change “monumental.”

The President said: “Right now, marijuana has a higher-level classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine – the two drugs driving America’s overdose epidemic. That just doesn’t add up. … Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana. I’m committed to writing those historic wrongs. You have my word.”

News that the Justice Department had concurred with a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services to reclassify marijuana was initially reported by the Associated Press two weeks ago.

The Biden Administration initiated federal agencies to review the issue of marijuana’s Schedule I status in October 2022 – marking the first time a President has ever made the request.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “This recommendation validates the experiences of tens of millions of Americans, as well as tens of thousands of physicians, who have long recognized that cannabis possesses legitimate medical utility. But it still falls well short of the changes necessary to bring federal marijuana policy into the 21st century. Specifically, the proposed change fails to harmonize federal marijuana policy with the cannabis laws of most U.S. states, particularly the 24 states that have legalized its use and sale to adults.”

Armentano added: “Nevertheless, as a first step forward, this policy change dramatically shifts the political debate surrounding cannabis. Specifically, it delegitimizes many of the tropes historically exploited by opponents of marijuana policy reform. Claims that cannabis poses unique harms to health, or that it’s not useful for treating chronic pain and other ailments, have now been rejected by the very federal agencies that formerly perpetuated them. Going forward, these specious allegations should be absent from any serious conversations surrounding cannabis and how to best regulate its use.”

NORML has long argued that the cannabis plant should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, thereby providing state governments — rather than the federal government — the ability to regulate marijuana in the manner they see fit without violating federal law, and allowing the federal government to provide standards and guidelines for regulated cannabis markets.

The Justice Department is expected post its proposed rule in the Federal Register imminently. Once it does, there will be a period of public comment, during which time interested parties can weigh in one the decision. At that time, parties can also request administrative hearings to further debate the issue.

Historically, administrative rescheduling petitions have taken several years to be resolved. By contrast, President Biden called upon federal agencies to initiate this administrative process to review “expeditiously.”

Additional information on cannabis rescheduling is available from the following NORML op-ed and Fact Sheet


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