The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from the United States has sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recommending that cannabis be re-classified under Schedule III, which is considered less dangerous and less addictive.
The letter was initially obtained by Bloomberg and is dated Aug. 29, which is ten months after the Biden-Harris administration announced the administrative process to review how cannabis is scheduled under federal law.
Cannabis is currently scheduled under Schedule I which are deemed drugs with a high risk of abuse such as heroin. Schedule III substances such as anabolic steroids and ketamine are approved and regulated by the federal government and are only available via prescription.
The letter sent by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General requests DEA administrator Anne Milgram, “to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
The DEA now has to employ its five-factor test (which is different from the HHS criteria) to determine if cannabis is to be rescheduled or not. Previously, the DEA determined four times that the plant failed to meet any of its criteria. In 2016, the agency concluded that cannabis has no medical use because the plant’s chemistry is not known and reproducible. It also said there weren’t enough studies or evidence it works.
The non-profit NORML has long advocated for removing cannabis from the CSA altogether in a similar way to tobacco and alcohol.
“Just as it is intellectually dishonest to categorize cannabis in the same placement as heroin, it is equally disingenuous to treat cannabis in the same manner as anabolic steroids,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement.
He added that the majority of Americans believe that the plant needs to be legalized and its hazards to health are minimal compared to other substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
📣 The HHS recommends reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to III, a significant step toward ending the War on Drugs. The FDA's acknowledgment of its medical benefits is inspiring, and we're excited about the potential impact it'll have on the industry. pic.twitter.com/M4fsXnZenI
— Green Thumb Industries (GTI) (@GTIGrows) August 30, 2023
“It will be very interesting to see how DEA responds to this recommendation, given the agency’s historic opposition to any potential change in cannabis’ categorization under federal law,” Armentano said.
“Further, for decades, the agency has utilized its own five-factor criteria for assessing cannabis’ placement in the CSA — criteria that as recently as 2016, the agency claimed that cannabis failed to meet.”
“Since the agency has the final say over any rescheduling decision, it is safe to say that this process still remains far from over.”
When asked about the recommendation during a news briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the review “is an independent process” that is led by HHS and the Department of Justice, adding that she would not comment on where Biden currently stands on the issue of decriminalizing cannabis.
However, President Joe Biden is no stranger to making promises regarding rescheduling cannabis. Back in 2019, during his presidential campaign, Biden’s spokesperson told CNN he supported decriminalizing the plant and during its house party in Nashua, New Hampshire he told voters that nobody should be in jail for smoking it.