U.S. health agency advises easing federal marijuana restrictions

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday that federal health officials had delivered “a scheduling recommendation for marijuana” to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Senate Democrats confirmed that HHS’s advice was to ease up. President Biden had asked HHS to review marijuana’s legal classification last October, at the same time he pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of the drug.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, like heroin and LSD. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said HHS urged the DEA to make it a Schedule III drug, the same tier as ketamine and some anabolic steroids. “HHS has done the right thing,” Schumer said. “DEA should now follow through on this important step to greatly reduce the harm caused by draconian marijuana laws.” The DEA’s review of the proposed policy change could take months.

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Rescheduling marijuana “would reduce or potentially eliminate criminal penalties for possession,” The Associated Press explained. It wouldn’t legalize the drug but it would make it easier to research the health benefits and drawbacks of cannabis, and it would remove many federal hurdles for selling the drug in the 23 states that have legalized recreational use and the 38 states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use, The Washington Post added. 

“We believe that rescheduling to Schedule III will mark the most significant federal cannabis reform in modern history,” said Edward Conklin of the U.S. Cannabis Council. “President Biden is effectively declaring an end to Nixon’s failed war on cannabis and placing the nation on a trajectory to end prohibition.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) agreed that making marijuana a Schedule III drug is “is not inconsequential,” but he urged Congress to deschedule it altogether.

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