In a significant development, the Justice Department announced on Thursday a formal move to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. This marks a historic shift in U.S. drug policy that has spanned generations.

The proposed rule, now sent to the federal register, acknowledges the medical benefits of cannabis and highlights its lower potential for abuse compared to some of the nation’s most dangerous substances. However, it does not legalize marijuana for recreational use. This change, approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, initiates a process where the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will open the proposal for public comment.

If the proposal is accepted, marijuana will be reclassified from a Schedule I drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD, to a Schedule III substance, aligning it with drugs like ketamine and some anabolic steroids. This move follows a recommendation from the federal Health and Human Services Department, which conducted a review prompted by President Joe Biden in 2022.

President Biden has also pardoned thousands of individuals convicted federally for simple marijuana possession and has urged local leaders to do the same. In a video statement, Biden emphasized the importance of this move in correcting long-standing injustices related to marijuana criminalization. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” he stated.

The announcement comes at a critical time, potentially bolstering support for Biden among younger voters as the election approaches. The reclassification process involves a 60-day comment period followed by a possible administrative review, which could extend the timeline.

Support for marijuana policy reform is growing across both major political parties, reflecting its increasing acceptance and decriminalization in many states. However, some argue that the reclassification doesn’t go far enough and advocate for marijuana to be treated similarly to alcohol.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the move and called for further steps toward legalization. The U.S. Cannabis Council described the shift as a significant departure from the failed policies of the past 50 years.

The Justice Department’s decision is based on available data from HHS, which indicates that marijuana’s abuse potential aligns more closely with other Schedule III substances. While the DEA has yet to make its final determination, it will consider public input during the rulemaking process.

Critics, however, argue against rescheduling. Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser, expressed concerns that the decision is driven by politics rather than science, highlighting the lack of sufficient data to support the move to Schedule III.

The immediate impact of this reclassification on the criminal justice system is expected to be limited, as federal prosecutions for simple possession have decreased. Nonetheless, Schedule III drugs remain controlled substances subject to regulations, and unauthorized trafficking could still lead to federal prosecution.

Federal drug policy has lagged behind state policies in recent years. Currently, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 24 have approved its recreational use. This trend has contributed to the rapid growth of the marijuana industry, now valued at nearly $30 billion. Easing federal regulations could significantly reduce the tax burden on marijuana businesses, potentially reaching 70% or more, and facilitate more extensive research on marijuana by simplifying the authorization process for clinical studies.

Source: Pioneer Press