Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are reportedly recommending that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move cannabis to a lower risk category under the Controlled Substances Act.
Currently a Schedule I drug – meaning it’s deemed to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse – the HHS believes marijuana should be reclassified as a Schedule III drug following a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Bloomberg reported Aug. 30, citing a letter from the HHS to the DEA.
If marijuana was moved to a Schedule III substance, it will be considered to have some medical uses and a moderate-to-low potential for physical and psychological dependence, joining a category that includes certain opioid-based pain medications, testosterone and anabolic steroids.
According to CNN, the DEA is initiating its review and has the final authority to make changes to marijuana’s scheduling. As part of the rulemaking process, the agency will have a period for the public to provide comments before any action is finalized.
Despite cannabis being legalized in some form in all but four states, it remains illegal on the federal level, hindering the industry’s growth. Reclassifying it, however, could eliminate some of those hurdles faced by cannabis-related ventures – such as access to banking services, capital and tax breaks– and ultimately better position the emerging sector for success.
The recommendation stemmed from a directive last year from President Joe Biden asking HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review how cannabis is classified under federal law as part of a wider marijuana reform effort.
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, a statewide coalition of licensed medical and recreational dispensaries, described the development as “a pivotal moment for our industry.”
In an Aug. 31 statement, the trade group said, “This validation underscores the numerous health benefits that cannabis provides. The NJCTA extends its gratitude to President Joe Biden and his administration for their historic effort in advancing the reclassification of cannabis. We are optimistic regarding the federal government’s response to this significant recommendation.
“We also extend our appreciation to Gov. Phil Murphy for New Jersey’s proactive stance in granting greater patient access to cannabis, a critical step that has significantly improved the quality of life for many,” the association said.