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U.S. health officials urge DEA to reclassify marijuana to lower-risk category

UPI
Federal health officials are reportedly asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from a high-risk Schedule I to a lower-risk Schedule III drug in the Controlled Substances Act. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Federal health officials reportedly are asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from a high-risk Schedule I to a lower-risk Schedule III drug in the Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made the recommendation Tuesday in a letter, nearly a year after the Biden administration requested "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."

"We can confirm DEA received a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services providing its finding and recommendation on marijuana scheduling, pursuant to President Biden's request for a review," a DEA spokesperson said in a statement, according to Bloomberg which first reported the recommendation.

The Food and Drug Administration, under HHS, led the scientific review that resulted in a Schedule III recommendation for cannabis.

"As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA. DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review," a DEA spokesperson said.

While the DEA has the final say about reclassification, marijuana would remain federally banned despite nearly 40 states having legalized it in some form.

Schedule III, which are FDA-approved drugs that are only legally available by prescription, would open more opportunities for marijuana research and unlock tax opportunities for the cannabis industry.

"It will be very interesting to see how DEA responds to this recommendation, given the agency's historic opposition to any potential change in cannabis' categorization under federal law," NORML -- National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement.

"Just as it is intellectually dishonest to categorize cannabis in the same placement as heroin, it is equally disingenuous to treat cannabis in the same manner as anabolic steroids," Armentano added, as he argued that marijuana should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether to allow for regulation at the state level.

"The majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal," he said, "and that its hazards to health are less significant than those associated with federally rescheduled substances like alcohol and tobacco."