Following the leak of a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that recommended cannabis be reclassified from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says reclassification is not enough, and cannabis needs to be descheduled.
NORML has previously supported the descheduling, or removal from the Controlled Substances Act completely. The organization believes reclassifying cannabis “continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances such as anabolic steroids and ketamine (Schedule III), benzodiazepines (Schedule IV), or even alcohol, which is unscheduled” and that Americans don’t want cannabis treated like heroin, another Schedule I substance, but they also don’t want it treated as a Schedule III drug.
“Tobacco and alcohol are not in the Controlled Substances Act. Those substances are well recognized to pose far greater hazards to health than cannabis. We should treat marijuana [under the federal scheduling system] equally,” said Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML. “Americans don’t want cannabis treated like heroin, like it is now. Still, they also don’t want it treated like a Schedule III substance like ketamine, which is only legal to possess with a physician’s prescription. As a grassroots organization that promotes freedom and civil liberties and represents the interests of the responsible cannabis consumer, we will continue to make the case for sensible marijuana policies like descheduling.”
The leaked letter from an official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), dated August 29, calls for the DEA to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug, currently defined by the DEA as “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” As a Schedule III drug, cannabis would remain federally illegal, but it would have an impact on cannabis research as it would help researchers who have said the Schedule I classification created significant barriers to access for research. Moving cannabis to Schedule III would also open the cannabis industry to new tax opportunities that are currently unavailable.
The letter was sent ten months after President Biden issued a statement regarding cannabis reform and called on the “secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” The official recommendation was sent to the DEA, who will conduct their own scientific review. The DEA has used its own five-factor test to determine if cannabis should be reclassified or not, with the agency determining on four previous occasions that cannabis doesn’t meet any of the five criteria and said in 2016 “marijuana has no ‘currently accepted medical use.” The five-factor test used by the DEA is different from the testing used by the HHS.
Colorado governor Jared Polis sent a letter to President Biden regarding the letter from the HHS, applauding the president for his administration making progress on changing how cannabis is regulated. He commented that issues, such as those involving banking, still need to be resolved, but noted that rescheduling cannabis could be a hallmark achievement to show for his time in office.
“This is an historic moment and we owe you and your administration a debt of gratitude for your leadership on catching up with where the science is,” said Polis in his letter. “Cannabis’ current classification under federal law as a Schedule I drug is contradicted by the scientific evidence. The notion, as previously considered, that cannabis has no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and no accepted safety standards even under medical supervision has been widely disproven, HHS’s recommendation is evidence-based and a move in the right direction.”