Biden administration said to be on the verge of easing marijuana regulations

Marijuana leaf news graphic (Image from Adopbe Stock Images)
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(Missouri Independent) – The Biden administration plans to remove marijuana from a list of the most dangerous and highly regulated drugs, according to multiple media reports Tuesday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration will propose moving the drug from a Schedule I substance, which also includes heroin and methamphetamine, to Schedule III, which is the category for regulated but legal drugs including testosterone and Tylenol with codeine, The Associated Press reported.

A spokesperson for the DEA referred questions Tuesday to the U.S. Justice Department, which oversees the agency. A Justice spokesperson declined to comment.

Cannabis has been listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act since 1971, even as many states have moved to legalize recreational use for more than a decade and medicinal use for even longer.

State-legal marijuana businesses make up a multibillion-dollar industry, but the illegal status of the drug under federal law creates barriers unseen by other industries, including a lack of access to banking and the inability to deduct business expenses from taxes.

Social justice advocates have also noted that prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes have hurt communities of color. Many of those convicted for offenses related to marijuana have not benefited from the recent decriminalization in many states.

Moving cannabis to Schedule III would allow a more permissive approach to the drug, including permitting greater study of medicinal uses and allowing related businesses to use a common tax deduction.

Schumer praises development

Congressional leaders on the issue and other advocates of changing marijuana’s status welcomed the news Tuesday afternoon, even as they called for further action.

“It is great news that DEA is finally recognizing that restrictive and Draconian cannabis laws need to change to catch up to what science and the majority of Americans have said loud and clear,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The New York Democrat added that other legislation, including bills to provide cannabis businesses with greater access to banking and to completely delist the drug, is still needed.

“Congress must do everything we can to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and address longstanding harms caused by the war on drugs,” he said.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat from Colorado who was the state’s governor when it and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use in 2012, said the news was welcome but did not go far enough.

“Rescheduling marijuana is a step in the right direction. But – just a step,” he posted to X. “Marijuana should be DEscheduled altogether.”

The state’s current Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, cheered the report in a written statement.

“I am thrilled by the Biden Administration’s decision to begin the process of finally rescheduling cannabis, following the lead of Colorado and 37 other states that have already legalized it for medical or adult use, correcting decades of outdated federal policy,” Polis said.

“This action is good for Colorado businesses and our economy, it will improve public safety, and will support a more just and equitable system for all.”

The U.S. Cannabis Council, a business group, applauded the expected change.

The move was based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services research and would have myriad benefits for business, Executive Director Edward Conklin said in a written statement.

The update would put marijuana on a path to full legalization and make it easier for state-legal businesses to run profitable operations, he said.

“Moving to Schedule III represents a tectonic shift in our nation’s drug laws. The US Cannabis Council is committed to ending federal cannabis prohibition, and we believe that reclassification is a necessary and critical step toward that goal,” he wrote. “In the coming days, we will submit comments to the DEA in support of the proposed rule.”

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Jacob Fischler

Jacob Fischler is a Washington correspondent for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes The Missouri Independent.