DEA must ‘make good’ on marijuana rescheduling, Democratic lawmakers say

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has offered federal lawmakers a rare glimpse into the ongoing marijuana rescheduling process.

However, an April 16 letter from the agency noting it is “carefully following” protocol while weighing a potentially revolutionary change to federal drug laws did not satisfy 21 leading Democratic lawmakers.

The legislators told the DEA in an April 24 follow-up that “it is time to make good on the President’s commitments” to enact marijuana reform.

That was a reference to President Joe Biden’s October 2022 order to Cabinet-level agencies to “expeditiously review” marijuana’s Schedule 1 status under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Long wait

Advocates and players in the regulated U.S. marijuana industry are waiting on the DEA to rule on a subsequent August 2023 recommendation from federal health regulators that marijuana be moved from Schedule 1 of the CSA to Schedule 3.

The historic recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that marijuana be assigned official medical value also could unlock massive tax savings for struggling cannabis retailers.

But in the eight months since the HHS recommendation, the DEA has kept a tight lid on the status of its review and how it might ultimately rule.

The DEA’s acting chief of congressional affairs, Michael Miller, told Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, in the April 16 letter that the agency is “carefully following” the “procedures that Congress set forth in the Controlled Substances Act, including an opportunity for a public comment period and a hearing.”

Miller offered no other details, but the mention of a comment period and subsequent hearing led observers to speculate that a rescheduling decision won’t be fast-tracked.

That could mean many more months before the benefits of potential rescheduling such as banking are unlocked.

‘Correct marijuana’s misguided placement’

The slow timeline is frustrating the cannabis industry, and it’s also dissatisfying leading Democratic voices for marijuana reform, including Warren, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as well as U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden, both of Oregon.

“While we understand that the DEA may be navigating internal disagreement on this matter, it is critical that the agency swiftly correct marijuana’s misguided placement in Schedule I,” the 21 Democrats wrote in their April 24 letter.

“We are also hopeful that the DEA will not make the unprecedented choice to disagree with HHS’s medical finding that a drug does not belong in Schedule I.”

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