Justice Department takes ‘major step’ toward rescheduling marijuana

Author: Julie Tsirkin and Monica Alba (NBC News)

WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The Justice Department took a significant step toward rescheduling marijuana Thursday, formalizing its process to reclassify the drug as lower-risk and remove it from a category in which it has been treated as more dangerous than fentanyl and meth.

President Joe Biden announced the “major” move in a direct-to-camera video posted to his official account on X. “This is monumental,” Biden said in the message. “It’s an important move towards reversing long-standing inequities. … Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it.”

The Biden administration has been signaling that it would move to reschedule the drug from Schedule I — a strict classification including drugs like heroin — to the less-stringent Schedule III, which would for the first time acknowledge the drug’s medical benefits at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration submitted a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Thursday afternoon, triggering a 60-day comment period that will allow members of the public to submit remarks regarding the rescheduling proposal before it is finalized.

Biden first directed federal agencies to review how marijuana is scheduled in October 2022, weeks before that year’s midterm elections. The process was led by the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Look folks, no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period,” Biden said in Thursday’s video, his third time speaking extensively on the topic since his directive two years ago.

The second time Biden addressed the issue was during this year’s State of the Union address, making history by referring to marijuana from the dais in the House chamber. “No one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana,” he said at the time.

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are reacting following the Biden Administration’s announcement on rescheduling cannabis.

“It’s official, the Biden administration has taken a historic step toward ending reefer madness and bringing commonsense to federal cannabis policy,” said Senator Wyden. “Now it’s time to follow the lead of 24 states and more than half the country by decriminalizing and putting in place smart federal regulations. Leader Schumer, Senator Booker and I have the bill to do it.”

Meanwhile Senator Merkley says its a step in the right direction and he is glad to see action being taken.

“U.S. physician groups, state and national advocates, and broad public opinion all strongly support full legalization,” said Senator Merkley. “While we continue to push for complete descheduling of cannabis, there are steps we must take in the meantime to protect legal cannabis businesses, users, and community members.”

Merkley also said anything less than complete federal legalization will continue to harm the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Both senators signed a letter to President Biden asking for a swift review of cannabis scheduling by his administration.

Vice President Kamala Harris also released a video Thursday, hailing the progress.

“Currently marijuana is classified on the same level as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl. We are finally changing that,” Harris said. “We are on the road to getting it done.”

During the first 30 days of the comment period, interested parties could request a hearing regarding the rescheduling proposal. Under the statute, the DEA would be required to hold a hearing before an administrative law judge.

After the DEA reviews and considers the public comments, and at the conclusion of any requested hearing, the DEA will issue a final order to reschedule marijuana. (The DEA could decline to reschedule the drug but that’s unlikely given the administration’s strong support).

The entire process can take anywhere from a few months to up to a year.

Once completed, federal scientists will be able to research and study the potential medical benefits of the drug for the first time since the Controlled Substances Act was enacted in 1971. It could also open the door for pharmaceutical companies to get involved with the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

For the $34 billion cannabis industry, the move would also eliminate significant tax burdens for businesses in states where the drug is legal, notably removing it from the IRS code’s Section 280E, which prohibits legal cannabis companies from deducting what would otherwise be ordinary business expenses.

The Justice Department’s rescheduling decision could also help shrink the black market, which has thrived despite legalization in states like New York and California, and has undercut legal markets, which are fiercely regulated and highly taxed.

During his time in office, Biden issued pardons for prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana and issued a proclamation granting additional pardons for simple possession, attempted simple possession and use of the drug.

The White House has also urged governors to do the same in their states and some have heeded the call, including in Oregon and Massachusetts.

Democrats in Congress are pursuing a partisan effort to remove cannabis entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, empowering states to create their own cannabis laws and prioritize restorative and economic justice for those affected by the “war on drugs.”

“Congress must do everything we can to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and address long-standing harms caused by the War on Drugs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier this month.

Read the Original Article here.

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