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US Moves to Reclassify Cannabis as a Less Dangerous Drug

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
May 17, 2024


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has started the process of reclassifying cannabis as a less dangerous drug, it announced in a press release on May 16.

The DOJ submitted a notice in the Federal Register that would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids, from its current classification as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD, under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), The Associated Press reported.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) previously proposed such a move, the AP reported, after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made the recommendation to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram in August 2023.  

The proposed rule would recognize the medical uses of cannabis but would not legalize it for recreational use. After the public comment period and a review by an administrative judge, the DEA would eventually publish the final rule.

President Joe Biden called for a review of federal cannabis law in October 2022 and moved to pardon thousands of Americans convicted federally of simple possession of the drug. He has also called on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase marijuana convictions.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said in December, the AP reported. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

A Gallup poll last fall found that 70 percent of adults support legalization, the highest level yet recorded by the polling firm and more than double the roughly 30 percent who backed it in 2000, according to the AP.

Thirty-eight states have already legalized medical cannabis and 24 have legalized its recreational use. The industry’s estimated worth is nearly $30 billion, The AP reported.

Jack Riley, a former deputy administrator of the DEA, told the AP that he hadconcerns about the proposed change because he thinks cannabis remains a possible “gateway drug,” one that may lead to the use of other drugs. “But in terms of us getting clear to use our resources to combat other major drugs, that’s a positive,” he said, noting that fentanyl alone accounts for more than 100,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Critics of this step pointed out that as a Schedule III drug, cannabis would remain regulated by the DEA, the AP reported.y the DEA. That would mean that the approximately 15,000 cannabis dispensaries in the United States would have to register with the DEA, as do regular pharmacies, and they would also have to fulfill strict reporting requirements, something that they are reluctant to do and that the DEA is not prepared to handle.

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