DEA Plans to Reclassify Marijuana: Understanding the Impact


In a groundbreaking shift that would redefine the landscape of American drug policy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is looking at reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

This initiative, revealed by sources to The Associated Press, involves moving marijuana from Schedule I — a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs like heroin and LSD — to Schedule III, which includes substances like ketamine and some anabolic steroids.

This historic move, pending review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, signals a monumental shift in perception towards cannabis, recognizing its medical benefits and lower abuse potential compared to more hazardous substances.

Pros of Reclassifying Marijuana

  1. Medical Recognition and Reduced Stigma: Reclassifying marijuana reflects an acknowledgment of its medicinal properties and paves the way for broader acceptance and reduced societal stigma. This could dramatically change public perception and enhance its legitimacy as a medical treatment option.
  2. Economic Growth: The change is expected to boost the already flourishing cannabis industry, which boasts an estimated value of nearly $30 billion. By easing some of the draconian regulations tied to Schedule I substances, the industry could see reduced tax burdens and increased profitability.
  3. Enhanced Research Opportunities: Transitioning to a lower schedule makes it easier for researchers to conduct studies on marijuana. Current restrictions heavily limit research on Schedule I drugs, so this change could lead to new discoveries about the drug’s benefits and risks.
  4. Political and Public Momentum: This move mirrors growing public support for marijuana legalization, as evidenced by recent polls. Politically, it could provide a boost to lawmakers who advocate for reform, reflecting the will of the electorate and potentially garnering support among younger voters.

Cons of Reclassifying Marijuana

  1. Regulatory and Compliance Challenges: Although reclassification to Schedule III reduces some regulatory burdens, it imposes others, such as requiring dispensaries to register with the DEA and adhere to strict oversight, which could prove cumbersome for both regulators and the industry.
  2. Gateway Drug Concerns: Critics, including former DEA officials, warn that marijuana could still serve as a gateway to more dangerous substances, arguing that the risks associated with its broader use remain significant.
  3. International Legal Conflicts: The U.S. is bound by international treaties that require the criminalization of cannabis. Reclassifying marijuana could potentially conflict with these agreements, complicating international relations and U.S. treaty obligations.
  4. Potential for Unintended Consequences: Loosening marijuana restrictions could have unforeseen effects in both law enforcement and public health spheres, possibly complicating efforts to combat other drug-related issues.
  5. Legal and Political Controversy: The DEA’s proposal might ignite legal challenges and political opposition, particularly from segments that view the current drug classification system as appropriate. Such opposition could fuel ongoing debates and policy clashes.

As the DEA prepares to take public comments and move toward finalizing this rule change, the implications of reclassifying marijuana continue to stir debate.

We wanted to include the following press release in response below to the announcement that came from Chelsea Higgs Wise of Richmond, VA, executive director of Marijuana Justice and represented a coalition of several organizations.

United for Marijuana Decriminalization Appeals to the Public to Participate in Drug Enforcement Administration’s Anticipated Public Comment Period

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Associated Press reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) plans to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a group of prominent drug and marijuana policy reform organizations are calling on the public to take action by participating in the DEA’s public comment period and demand that marijuana be fully removed from the list of controlled substances.

United for Marijuana Decriminalization, a coalition representing leading voices in drug policy reform and the cannabis industry, is urging interested members of the public to submit comments to the DEA once its public comment period begins, emphasizing that rescheduling to Schedule III fails to deliver on the Biden Administration’s campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana.

“The DEA’s proposal to reschedule marijuana would continue criminalization and as a result is inconsistent with the Biden Administration’s promises, especially to Black and Brown people, regarding marijuana decriminalization and expungement,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, one of the organizations in the coalition. 

The DEA’s reported proposal to reschedule cannabis to Schedule III fails in three key ways:

●  Continued Criminalization and Social Injustice. Rescheduling will not release anyone incarcerated for cannabis convictions, expunge criminal records, or resolve immigration-related consequences. Nor will it prevent arrests of consumers and patients lawfully using marijuana under current state programs. It will not provide relief to anyone who has lost their voting rights, housing rights, or any other rights based on a marijuana conviction.

●  Perpetuating Prohibition of Lawful State Businesses and Patients. Even after a reclassification to Schedule III, both medical and recreational  users and businesses that are compliant with state laws will remain in violation of federal law. Rescheduling will only further protect FDA-approved products and entities registered with the DEA to handle marijuana.

●  Need for Comprehensive Reform. Reform starts with descheduling marijuana, not a half step maintaining its criminal status under the CSA. As President Biden and Vice President Harris have acknowledged, decriminalization is the only path to align federal policy with the majority of states and the will of the American people.

“It’s tempting to celebrate any incremental change, but this decision doesn’t protect any marijuana patients or consumers from arrest,” said Shaleen Title, founder and director of Parabola Center for Law and Policy, an organization that is part of the coalition. “At a time when our country needs real change, it’s simply a well-timed move designed to make it look like something is being done about marijuana.”

The coalition has created a tool to help stakeholders submit comments, emphasizing the importance of a strong, united voice in this critical moment. This tool will become available once the DEA opens up the portal for public comments. Rescheduling falls drastically short of the reforms necessary to rectify the historical injustices and ongoing disparities caused by marijuana prohibition, and widespread public engagement can influence a shift towards the complete removal of cannabis from the list of controlled substances. It’s critical that individuals and communities impacted by cannabis criminalization make their voices heard during the public comment period.

About United for Marijuana Decriminalization

UMD is a coalition of organizations concerned that rescheduling is simply a rebranding of marijuana prohibition, not the end of it. Members of UMD include the Drug Policy Alliance, the National Cannabis Industry Association, Better Organizing to Win Legalization, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Parabola Center for Law and Policy, the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers, and Marijuana Justice.   

More reactions from members of United for Marijuana Decriminalization 

“While this step may represent progress for some, it leaves communities impacted by cannabis criminalization behind. This action by the Biden Administration, without additional steps, would fail to deliver promises made to Black and Brown communities.”

– Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director, Marijuana Justice  

“Rescheduling would protect only hypothetical corporations that have completed an expensive, time-consuming FDA approval process that isn’t designed for botanical plants – and hypothetical users of a product that doesn’t exist yet.” – Shaleen Title, Founder and Director, Parabola Center for Law and Policy

“While today’s proposed change to the federal status of cannabis marks a significant shift in the federal government’s approach to marijuana policy and will have positive effects for small businesses who have been paying a discriminatory tax rate, it falls out of alignment with science and a majority of the American people who believe that cannabis should be treated more in line with tobacco and alcohol — and most importantly, that no person should be locked in a cage for possessing a plant.”

– Kaliko Castille, Former President, Minority Cannabis Business Association

 “We can acknowledge the historical significance of the policy shift recognizing the medicinal validity of cannabis and an immediate need for it to be removed from Schedule I of the CSA. But this is a critical moment in the fight to decriminalize and equitably end prohibition. We maintain that alleviating the financial woes of those who already have access to capital does nothing to lift the burdens and disenfranchisement of people who have been deprived of parental rights, employment, education, family unification, medical resources, or liberty. Rescheduling to a Schedule III continues a vicious cycle of marginalization and falls short of bringing either relief or repair.”

– Natacha Andrews, Esq., Executive Director, National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers

“While NCIA unequivocally supports ending the federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana, we also acknowledge today’s announcement as a positive step toward reforming our nation’s outdated policies. However, the proposed move to reschedule does not harmonize federal law with the laws on the books in 37 states with some form of legal cannabis commerce. Clear enforcement guidance protecting the licensed cannabis businesses operating in those states must accompany rescheduling.”

– Aaron Smith, CEO & Co-Founder, National Cannabis Industry Association

“If the Biden Administration and Congress are truly supportive of ending marijuana criminalization, righting its wrongs, and establishing a responsible and equitable federal framework for cannabis policy, they should be willing to acknowledge the insufficiency of the DEA’s proposed shift and to take immediate action to ensure that marijuana is ultimately descheduled and to bring about marijuana reform that meaningfully improves people’s lives who have been harmed by decades of criminalization.”

– Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation, Drug Policy Alliance

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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