The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regarding the reclassification of cannabis on the list of controlled substances. As one of the biggest issues in the industry to date, cannabis’ current Schedule I classification by the DEA is a huge road block for the success and growth of the plant. Advocates have fought for decades to remove cannabis’ Schedule I label, and with this news we might just see all of that dedication finally come to fruition.
Unfortunately, the only issue right now is that no one really knows what the HHS actually said in its formal recommendation—only that the letter was sent on September 30, 2015. The recommendation was a response to two other petitions that also aim to reclassify cannabis under federal law. According to a letter sent to U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer to the DEA, proof that the HHS’ letter was received and is currently being reviewed by the DEA, “DEA recently received the HHS scientific and medical evaluations as well as a scheduling recommendation that the HHS prepared in response to the aforementioned petitions,” stated the letter.
A Schedule I controlled substance is the highest rank of “dangerous” substances, especially those labeled as having no medical value. Petitions in cannabis’ favor can’t harm its current status, and it can only increase the chance that cannabis might be lowered into Schedule II or be freed from the controlled substances act completely. If redefined as Schedule II, doctors would be able to prescribe cannabis as a medicine and researchers would be able to access the plant more easily. The Department of Justice provided a formal statement acknowledging that they were currently reviewing the documents sent by the HHS, and that if a decision is made, they will publicly publish all documents in the Federal Register.
“DEA recently received the HHS scientific and medical evaluations as well as a scheduling recommendation that the HHS prepared in response to the aforementioned petitions.”
This isn’t the only move that suggests cannabis should be reclassified. Aside from the ongoing fight by advocates, the most recent CARERS Act also aimed to move cannabis to Schedule II. Unfortunately, although the Act was presented to the Senate, there has been no action to move it closer towards approval. There is also the reliance on promises from presidential candidates promising to support cannabis, such as Senator Bernie Sanders. He has made mention of supporting cannabis more than once, and would try to remove the plant from the Controlled Substances Act entirely—of course, that relies on the many factors in the upcoming presidential race and beyond.
It is unknown when the DEA will officially respond to the HHS’ recommendation. As of this writing, no further updates regarding this possible change have been announced by the DEA.
However, in early January, the DEA did announce that it would be loosening its restrictions on scientists who wish to study cannabis. As seen even in just the past decade of cannabis advocacy, we’ll continue to take progress one step at a time.