The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has submitted a recommendation concerning cannabis policy to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), seeking to move cannabis to Schedule III, a less restrictive level on the federal drug schedule.
Democratic Senate leaders applauded this development, considering it an initial move towards the reduction of federal constraints on cannabis. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, using the platform now known as X (formerly Twitter), conveyed that the agency’s recommendation came in response to President Joe Biden’s request “to offer a scheduling suggestion for marijuana to the DEA,” according to the Associated Press.
He added, “We have made efforts to ensure the prompt completion and sharing of a scientific assessment.”
In an opinion piece, Marijuana Moment, which covers the legal cannabis industry, wrote: “It is exciting to consider the possibility that the DEA may follow the HHS recommendation to reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance. This would overturn a deeply flawed policy from the era of the Nixon administration, a policy that has been in place for more than 50 years.”
The HHS Recommendation on Schedule III Cannabis
The HHS recommendation is that DEA, the agency formed during the Nixon Administration that oversees the federal drug schedule, would move cannabis from Schedule I to a Schedule III illegal drug.
Created in the early 1970s, the federal drug schedule classifies controlled substances into different schedules based on their potential for abuse and accepted medical use. They are defined under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Schedule I includes substances that federal government officials believe have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Marijuana is currently in this category, grouped with drugs such as heroin, LSD and marijuana.
Schedule II includes substances the federal government says have a high potential for abuse but do have accepted medical uses with severe restrictions. Schedule III includes substances with a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I or II drugs, as well as having accepted medical uses. Examples from the current Schedule III schedule include certain steroids and combination products containing less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit.
President Biden’s Requests Led to HHS Recommendation
The HHS recommendation to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III came after President Joe Biden asked HHS and the attorney general, who oversees the DEA, to review the cannabis classification.
Cannabis proponents have pointed out that cannabis, legal for recreational use in many states and medical use in most states, is still put on par, legally, with heroin, LSD, quaaludes and ecstasy.
Others have pointed out that alcohol and tobacco, both of which are harmful to users, were excluded when the federal government created the drug schedule. Because Congress took the action to exempt “distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages or tobacco” from schedule, it will require action by them to also change the status of cannabis.