History: DEA agrees to move marijuana to Schedule III (2024)

The federal war on marijuana has entered the end game.

Today, the Associated Press reports that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will move to re-categorize marijuana as having medical use and a low potential for abuse.

For the first time since 1971, the US federal government is seeking to end cannabis’s designation as a “Schedule I” controlled substance—equivalent to drugs like heroin and PCP. Instead, the US intends to consider marijuana a Schedule III substance—on the same level as codeine.

The Associated Press appears to be the first to report the news, with it being picked up by Marijuana Moment.

Learn more about Legalization

Legalization polls in the 70s, and medical legalization polls in the 90s. Cannabis champion and congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) stated in an email:

“If today’s reporting proves true, we will be one step closer to ending the failed war on drugs. Marijuana was scheduled more than 50 years ago based on stigma, not science.TheAmerican people have made clear in state after state thatcannabislegalization is inevitable. The Biden-Harris Administration is listening.”

The rescheduling follows a request that President Biden made to US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in October 2022 to review the scheduling of marijuana under federal law. (Biden had simultaneously issued pardons for federal prisoners convicted on marijuana charges.)

In January, activists learned the US Dept. of Health and Human Services had recommended to the DEA that marijuana move to Schedule III.

The re-scheduling move carries immense consequences, from research opportunities to tax code reform for cannabis businesses. Yet it’s far from a silver bullet: On its own, rescheduling does not decriminalize or legalize cannabis; nor does it facilitate interstate commerce for the industry.

Read on to learn more about the significance of cannabis rescheduling, what it accomplishes, and what it leaves unsolved.

  • What was so bad about Schedule 1?
  • What will Schedule III change?
  • What does rescheduling leave unfixed?
  • What’s next?
  • Experts react to the news
  • Cannabis industry tax relief also seems imminent
  • A new political win for President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris
  • Watch Leafly Senior Editor David Downs hash out the breaking news:

What was so bad about Schedule 1?

Marijuana’s Schedule I has proved catastrophic over the decades. In 1971, with a hefty push from the hardcore prohibitionist President Richard Nixon, the DEA added cannabis to the nascent list of Schedule 1 Controlled Substances. Authorities deemed it to have no medical value, and high potential for abuse. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, ecstasy, and quaaludes.

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Police arrested millions of Americans for marijuana since 1971. Drug arrests became the No. 1 type of arrest police made, and pot became the No. 1 type of drug arrest. You could lose your children, housing, education, job, and more under the Schedule I designation.

Also, scientists could not study cannabis easily. Furthermore, a drug’s Schedule 1 status prevents its legalization; even today, states that allow for recreational or medical marijuana sales are technically in violation of federal law.

History: DEA agrees to move marijuana to Schedule III (1)

What will Schedule III change?

Cannabis’ new classification puts it on par with ketamine, Tylenol with codeine, and testosterone.

According to the DEA’s own definition, Schedule III substances present “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Cannabis’ new classification puts it on par with ketamine, Tylenol with codeine, and testosterone.

One of the most potentially consequential impacts of rescheduling is also one of the wonkiest: Thanks to a line in federal tax code referred to as 280e, cannabis businesses pay crippling taxes, sometimes upwards of 65-75%. It also prevents businesses from deducting many of their expenses from their taxes. Thanks to rescheduling, the 280e policy will no longer apply; it could open the door to new growth and investment.

As a Schedule III substance, scientists will have easier access to researching cannabis as well. Furthermore, as Marijuana Moment points out, rescheduling could loosen restrictions around federal employees consuming cannabis.

What does rescheduling leave unfixed?

In short, rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III is just a step toward full legalization. It does not decriminalize personal possession in prohibition states like Texas, nor does it facilitate interstate commerce.

“Marijuana’s current scheduling is inappropriate, arcane, and out-of-touch with the will of the American people,” statedCongresswoman Barbara Lee.“This announcement is a step in the right direction. But to be clear: cannabis must be fully descheduled in order to end the War on Drugs and repair harm to communities of color. This move is progress for businesses, but we can’t let it undermine comprehensive reform.”

Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s leading cannabis policy reform organization, stated, “It is a rather modest step given the strong support among American voters for comprehensive cannabis reform.”

RelatedPresident Biden to pardon federal marijuana prisoners and start rescheduling process

What’s next?

The DEA’s recommendation for rescheduling now goes up for public comment—likely for several months through the General Election on Nov. 4. President Biden will likely campaign on promises kept. One poll shows the incumbent President receiving an 11 percentage-point bump in voter approval for rescheduling. Medical marijuana polls at 90% approval, while Gallup has legalization polling at 70%.

The rescheduling news offers the chance to increase pressure for bigger change as well, said longtime cannabis tax expert Henry Wykowski. He heads to Washington DC in May to lobby for reform, and said this provides ammo.

“This is good opportunity to keep the pressure up to make sure they really do follow through on it this time,” said Wykowski.

Experts react to the news

Experts applauded the DEA’s rescheduling move, and looked back on the hard-fought win.

Brian Vicente helped lead America into legalization from Colorado and is the founding partner of national cannabis law firm Vicente LLP, which has been actively engaged in the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform. He said the move is a big effing deal.

We have entered a new era of dialogue and policy around this historically maligned plant.”

Brian Vicente, Vicente LLP, Colorado

“This is a remarkable about-face by the DEA, which spent decades denying the true medical value of the cannabis plant. While a strong case can be made for removing cannabis from the federal drug schedules entirely, rescheduling marks a huge step forward for commonsense cannabis policy in our country. This action will have massive impacts, both practically for the cannabis industry and symbolically for the reform movement. We have entered a new era of dialogue and policy around this historically maligned plant.”

Shawn Hauser, partner at Vicente LLP who closely follows the federal scheduling process called ther move, “likely the best outcome possible, given the realities of the federal administrative review process. This historic action by the Biden administration has the potential to embolden Congress to finally pass legislation that federally legalizes and regulates cannabis for medical and adult use.”

Cannabis industry tax relief also seems imminent

The top cannabis tax attorney Wykowski affirmed rescheduling offers relief to embattled cannabis licensees. Their taxes would go down. They would be able to take business deductions for the first time.

“[The tax code section 280E] been a terrible, unfair burden on the whole licensed industry—people who are really trying to comply with the law. It favored people in the illicit market who continued to sell without being licensed, regulated, tested, or taxed.”

Cannabis industry mogul and rapper Berner celebrated, stating to his Instagram followers: “This is such a major step in the right direction. I couldn’t be more excited to say goodbye to 280E which made operating a business in our space unfair and almost impossible.”

A new political win for President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris

The rescheduling move championed by the White House bookends a revolutionary journey for both the President and Vice President.

Both advanced politically in Tough on Crime eras. Now, they go down in history as dealing the near-fatal blow to pot prohibition.

Wykowski has watched that journey over decades and said, “I think President Biden’s progression has been the progression that we’ve seen with the country as a whole.”

“For a long time, people thought this was a gateway drug, and that was largely based on inaccurate information put out by the government. It’s just now shown to be wrong. Cannabis when used appropriately can have some beneficial effects for people—they’ve just been slow to recognize them.”

Watch Leafly Senior Editor David Downs hash out the breaking news:

Leafly Senior Editor David Downs contributed to this report.

History: DEA agrees to move marijuana to Schedule III (2024)


History: DEA agrees to move marijuana to Schedule III? ›

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made a historic decision—agreeing with the top federal health agency and proposing to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Justice Department confirmed on Tuesday.

When did marijuana become a Schedule 1 drug? ›

In the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the Federal government categorized marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning it was considered to have no acceptable medical use and was among the class of drugs having the highest potential for misuse.

When did marijuana become illegal in the US? ›

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of cannabis illegal throughout the United States under federal law, excluding medical and industrial uses, through imposition of an excise tax on all sales of hemp.

What was the first state to legalize medical marijuana? ›

California became the first state to allow medicinal cannabis use when voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996. Today, cannabis is legal in California for both medicinal and adult (recreational) use.

Is marijuana a stimulant or depressant? ›

Marijuana is complex chemically and not yet fully understood, but it is not a narcotic. Like alcohol, marijuana acts as both stimulant and depressant, but it lingers in body organs longer than alcohol.

Is marijuana a Schedule 2 substance? ›

Schedule I Controlled Substances

Some examples of substances listed in Schedule I are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), peyote, methaqualone, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine ("Ecstasy").

What is the history of the Controlled Substance Act? ›

The CSA was enacted by the 91st United States Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon into law in 1970. This statute was an effort to combine all previous federal drug laws and allow for federal law enforcement of controlled substances, serving as the legal foundation in the federal fight against drug abuse.

Which country consumes the most marijuana? ›

Israel has highest cannabis consumption rates among citizens

According to the analysis, people in Israel use more marijuana than any other country, with roughly 27 percent of adults consuming it regularly. Israel legalized medical cannabis in the 1990s and decriminalized possession and home cultivation in 2019.

What did the marijuana tax act of 1937 do? ›

His campaign against Cannabis led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, under which the importation, cultivation, possession and/or distribution of marijuana were regulated. Among the act's provisions was one requiring importers to register and pay an annual tax of $24.

Where is marijuana illegal in the USA? ›

By state
GeorgiaIllegal; decriminalized in the cities of Atlanta, Clarkston, Forest Park, Savannah, South Fulton, Statesboro, unincorporated Fulton County, and Macon–Bibb County.
HawaiiIllegal; Decriminalized up to .1 oz (3 g)
IdahoIllegal; Misdemeanor (85 g (3.0 oz) or less)
42 more rows

What was marijuana originally used for? ›

The cannabis or hemp plant originally evolved in Central Asia before people introduced the plant into Africa, Europe and eventually the Americas. Hemp fiber was used to make clothing, paper, sails and rope, and its seeds were used as food.

Is marijuana high in dopamine? ›

In animal models, current research shows that marijuana use initially raises dopamine levels, fueling a sense of reward, which the team says may offer an explanation for why some users become addicted to the drug.

Do cannabinoids affect the digestive system True or false? ›

So marijuana also affects the digestive tract. For example, the drug can change the time it takes the stomach to empty. It also affects the esophageal sphincter.

Is marijuana a mood Stabiliser? ›

However, other research suggests cannabis can improve some symptoms of bipolar, such as those related to attention and memory, while negatively affecting others. For example, cannabis has associations with higher levels of manic and depressive episodes.

What is the controlled substance Act of 1970? ›

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) places all substances which were in some manner regulated under existing federal law into one of five schedules. This placement is based upon the substance's medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability.

What are schedule 3 drug examples? ›

Some examples of Schedule III drugs are:
  • Products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine)
  • ketamine.
  • anabolic steroids.
  • testosterone.

When was the drug schedule created? ›

Understanding Drug Scheduling

It was passed by the 91st US Congress as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and applies to both legal and illegal substances.

Is marijuana a controlled substance in NY? ›

The state passed cannabis reform with the signing of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act on March 31, 2021. Adults 21 and over are allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis or up to 24 grams of concentrate.

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