There has been a lot of discussion around the recent conversations taking place at the federal level in the United States regarding the rescheduling of cannabis. Currently, cannabis is a Schedule I substance and is not accepted for medicinal use by America’s federal government. However, as consumers and medical marijuana patients in our country have found for decades now, there are absolutely medical properties to this plant.
The status of cannabis in the United States has long been a subject of debate, reform, and controversy. However, very recently President Biden’s Administration is considering a recommendation to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance. Federal health officials determined marijuana poses a lower public health risk than other controlled substances and offers possible medical benefits and have proposed ending its designation as among the riskiest drugs, according to documents released last week. This is the first time the Department of Health and Human Services has publicly acknowledged marijuana’s medical use. In August, the agency recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) change marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, a designation reserved for substances that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, although the DEA has yet to act on this recommendation.
Rescheduling vs Descheduling Cannabis
To give a little background, the political conversation over the years around cannabis legalization at the federal level has primarily revolved around two key terms: “rescheduling” and “descheduling.” While both terms imply a shift from the current federal classification of cannabis, they have distinct implications and potential outcomes. As we already know, there have been increasing calls for the reform of cannabis laws, especially in light of its medicinal potential. Various states have legalized medical marijuana, and there’s growing bipartisan support for research into its therapeutic applications.
When discussing the rescheduling of cannabis, it refers to the act of reclassifying the drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As mentioned, cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. This classification implies that cannabis has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in treatment, and lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. You may be surprised to learn that even cocaine is a Schedule II drug under the CSA, meaning it has a high potential for abuse but also has an accepted medical use for treatment in the United States. If the federal government reschedules cannabis, this means it would recognize some potential medical benefits and reduce the associated criminal penalties. However, cannabis would still remain a controlled substance, subject to federal regulations and oversight.
However, as pointed out by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), one of the leading drug law reform organizations, rescheduling would not end continue marijuana arrests, release anyone in prison for marijuana, restore rights and access to public benefits, such as housing assistance, protect state marijuana regulatory programs or their patients or consumers, protect workers in the marijuana industry, or end the country’s failed approach to marijuana or right the wrongs of criminalization.
Descheduling, on the other hand, means removing cannabis entirely from the list of controlled substances under the CSA. This move would signify that the federal government no longer considers cannabis illegal at the federal level, allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies without federal interference. The momentum for descheduling has been building. Advocates argue that it’s a necessary step to address the racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions, promote economic growth through the cannabis industry, and respect states’ rights to enact their own cannabis policies.
“President Biden has proven himself to be one of the most committed leaders in modern history when it comes to supporting workers and standing up to Big Pharma. We hope to collaborate with his Administration to move toward his goals for equity and justice.”
Shaleen Title, founder and Director of Parabola Center for Law and Policy
Prominent cannabis advocacy organizations have been vocal on this issue. DPA is urging the Biden Administration to follow through on Biden’s pledge to federally decriminalize—not reschedule—marijuana. Removing marijuana from the CSA –descheduling marijuana – is necessary to repair the devastation wrought by the war on drugs, repair communities, and achieve common sense marijuana reform that benefits everyone.
Rescheduling marijuana would continue marijuana criminalization at the federal level and would continue to harm individuals, families and communities across the United States.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director of Marijuana Justice
“People remember promises of freedom. Folks living in southern states where repair is never guaranteed are holding Biden to his word to repeal the racist war on weed and on their existence. Our intentional 3-point plan reaches just about every corner of the country to bring justice not only for a plant, but for our communities trying to survive and provide. The time is now for Biden to keep his promise and commit to transforming the future of individuals and families impacted by prohibition.”
United for Marijuana Decriminalization, a group of the nation’s leading marijuana policy reform advocates and industry leaders emphasized that rescheduling alone raises new risks and does not fulfill President Biden’s previous promises. However, the following three-step proposal, combined with rescheduling, would help advance the president’s stated agenda. With the ultimate goal of decriminalizing marijuana, the group laid out a proposal asking President Biden to implement the following incremental steps:
Stop the harm by issuing new guidance to law enforcement pertaining to both individuals and licensed businesses, including deprioritizing prosecutions for marijuana-based conduct, seeking reduced sentences, and ending marijuana-related deportations.
Repair the harm by expanding pardons and commutations to go beyond simple marijuana possession, and restoring benefits for those with previous convictions (and calling on states to do the same).
Explicitly support marijuana legalization with regulations to protect public health, consumers, and workers; and prepare federal agencies to support small business development and prevent monopolization by Big Pharma, tobacco, and alcohol.
The group has launched a petition which you can sign here.
In conclusion, while both rescheduling and descheduling represent significant shifts in federal cannabis policy, they offer different pathways forward. As the conversation continues to evolve, it’s essential to consider the diverse perspectives and potential impacts of these reforms on society, the economy, and public health.