DOJ releases proposed rule to reclassify marijuana

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On Thursday, the Biden administration took a big step toward changing the way the federal government views marijuana. They proposed moving marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. This change would reduce the penalties for people caught with marijuana under federal law.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. This means it is considered as dangerous and addictive as heroin and methamphetamine. These drugs are seen as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Because of this classification, federal penalties for marijuana possession can be very severe.

If marijuana is reclassified as a Schedule III drug, it will be considered to have a lower potential for abuse and recognized medical uses. Other Schedule III drugs include substances like Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, and anabolic steroids. This reclassification would mean that the penalties for possessing marijuana would be less severe, reflecting its lower potential for harm compared to Schedule I drugs.

The Justice Department has started the process by submitting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Office of the Federal Register. This is an important step that allows the public to give their input. There will be a 60-day period where people can comment on the proposal.

After the public comment period, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will review the evidence and public comments. The DEA can then assign an administrative law judge to look at the evidence and make a final recommendation on whether to change marijuana’s classification.

President Joe Biden has been vocal about his support for this change. In a video posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), he said, “Look folks, no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period. Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs.”

Marijuana has been a Schedule I drug since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1971. This classification has made it difficult for researchers to study marijuana’s potential medical benefits and has led to harsh penalties for its possession and use.

In 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducted a detailed review of the scientific and medical data on marijuana. This review was requested by the White House, which wanted to explore the possibility of reclassifying marijuana.

After their review, HHS recommended that marijuana be moved to Schedule III. This recommendation was made official in an August letter from Adm. Rachel L. Levine, the assistant secretary for health at HHS, to the DEA administrator. Levine’s letter stated that marijuana should be controlled as a Schedule III substance due to its lower potential for abuse and recognized medical uses.

The proposal to reclassify marijuana is a significant move that has generated a lot of public interest. During the 60-day public comment period, individuals and organizations can share their opinions and provide feedback on the proposed change. This input will be considered by the DEA as they make their final decision.

If the reclassification is approved, it will mark a major shift in federal drug policy. This change could have wide-ranging implications for marijuana research, medical use, and criminal justice.

Reclassifying marijuana to Schedule III could make it easier for researchers to study its potential medical benefits. Currently, the Schedule I classification makes it very difficult to conduct research on marijuana. With a lower classification, scientists would have fewer regulatory hurdles to jump through, which could lead to more studies and a better understanding of marijuana’s effects and potential uses.

For medical marijuana patients, this reclassification could mean greater access and acceptance of marijuana as a treatment option. Doctors might feel more comfortable prescribing marijuana, and insurance companies might be more likely to cover it as a medication.

On the recreational side, reclassifying marijuana could influence state laws and policies. While many states have already legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, federal law still classifies it as an illegal drug. A change in federal classification could lead to more states reconsidering their own marijuana laws.

One of the driving forces behind this proposal is the desire to address the inequities caused by current marijuana laws. President Biden and other supporters of the reclassification argue that the harsh penalties for marijuana possession have disproportionately affected certain communities, particularly people of color.

By reducing the penalties for marijuana possession, the administration hopes to mitigate some of the damage caused by the current laws. This could mean fewer people being arrested and jailed for marijuana-related offenses, which would be a significant step toward criminal justice reform.

The Biden administration’s proposal to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug represents a major shift in federal drug policy. If approved, this change would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession and could lead to more research into its medical benefits. It also addresses longstanding concerns about the inequities caused by current marijuana laws.

The proposal is now in a 60-day public comment period, during which the public can provide feedback. After this period, the DEA will review the evidence and make a final decision on the reclassification.

This move is part of President Biden’s broader commitment to reforming drug policy and addressing the injustices caused by the current system. If successful, it could have wide-ranging implications for marijuana use, research, and criminal justice in the United States.

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