On May 16, The White House formally moved to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I narcotic to a Schedule III after announcing the plan to do so back in April.

Currently, the DEA considers marijuana to be a Schedule I substance. This means it is classified on the same level of danger as heroin and that the federal government considers it to have high potential for abuse and that it serves no use in the medical field. But almost half a century after the Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis in this classification, these federal restrictions may soon come to an end.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will next take public comment on the White House’s proposal over a sixty-day period that would be followed by a review from an administrative judge before it can be officially approved. If the reclassification is approved, marijuana will be categorized as Schedule III narcotic by the federal government, putting it on the same level as ketamine and some anabolic steroids.

DEA Headquarters /Photo By Dirtsc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

DEA Headquarters /Photo By Dirtsc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All this comes after a recommendation from the Health and Human Services Department, as well as years of lobbying from advocacy groups. Overall, it reflects changing attitudes, scientific findings, and societal norms regarding marijuana and its various uses.

Back in October of 2022, the President called for a review of federal marijuana law after pardoning a number of people who had been federally convicted on possession of marijuana charges and called on governors and local leaders to take similar steps regarding individuals facing state-level marijuana convictions.

These reviews, conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not only resulted in the recommendation to reclassify marijuana, but a stated position that it is potentially safer than alcohol. While being reclassified as a Schedule III wouldn’t legalize recreational or medical marijuana nationwide, as Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances subject to federal rules and regulations, it is considered by many to be a step in that direction.

Photo By Jeremiah Lander CC BY 2.0

Photo By Jeremiah Lander CC BY 2.0

The goal for multiple advocacy groups is to have marijuana treated the same way alcohol is regulated in the United States. Many consider these actions to be an important first step as the government thinks about additional regulatory and policy changes for the cannabis industry.

Marijuana is currently legal for medical use in thirty-eight states and for recreational use in twenty-four states, and these numbers are expected to go up over time.

After marijuana is reclassified, policymakers may be more inclined to establish clear guidelines for production, distribution, and consumption. This could address concerns related to product safety, potency, and underage use while generating tax revenue and reducing the burden on the criminal justice system.

Reclassification could also expand opportunities for businesses operating in the cannabis sector, including cultivators, dispensaries, and ancillary services. Furthermore, it could stimulate job growth and economic development in regions where marijuana cultivation and sales are legalized.

In an interview with Yahoo in early May, Curaleaf CEO Matt Darin called reclassification a historic moment in the industry and stated that any step forward will help with the normalization of marijuana use, showing lawmakers that there is public support for policy changes.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers shared similar views and found the FDA’s findings of marijuana potentially being safer than alcohol to be interesting and a great finding to have on the record. Both Darin and Rivers, along with many other cannabis company CEOs, believe that after marijuana is reclassified the industry would no longer be subject to the limitations of Section 280E, the part of the IRS tax code that limits companies’ ability to take deductions, raising their effective tax rate.

Many feel that putting this money into the business could normalize the industry’s banking practices and make the industry more inviting to institutional investors as well as pharmaceutical companies.

One of the most notable implications of marijuana’s reclassification to Schedule III though is its recognition as a substance with accepted medical benefits. This shift acknowledges the growing body of evidence supporting marijuana’s therapeutic properties and paves the way for increased research, regulation, and access to medical cannabis products. Patients suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy, and chemotherapy-induced nausea may benefit from the expanded availability of marijuana-based treatments.

As may be expected, there are those that are opposed to federal reclassification. Many critics feel that regulatory frameworks would need to be established to ensure safe production, distribution, and consumption.

Overall, the reclassification of marijuana to Schedule III has the potential to catalyze significant changes in its regulation, economic impact, research opportunities, and societal perception. By recognizing its medical value and reducing barriers to research, policymakers could unlock the full therapeutic potential of cannabis while addressing longstanding issues related to prohibition and stigma. However, careful consideration and comprehensive reform are necessary to navigate the complexities of marijuana policy and ensure equitable access and outcomes for all.

AJ Favorito is a freelance writer, photographer, and filmmaker specializing in comedy and animation. 

Works Cited

Miller, Zeke, et al. “US Poised to Ease Restrictions on Marijuana in Historic Shift, but It’ll Remain Controlled Substance.” AP News, Associated Press, 1 May 2024, apnews.com/article/marijuana-biden-dea-criminal-justice-pot-f833a8dae6ceb31a8658a5d65832a3b8.

Reid-Cleveland, Keith. “What Marijuana Reclassification Means for the US Cannabis Industry.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 9 May 2024, finance.yahoo.com/news/what-marijuana-reclassification-means-for-the-us-cannabis-industry-102914007.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAA270ahgZhPUY7vRqXVnh11DfCdKaywiPwpFFRs7cLOJGnGIuk628L45BjN4-elppt20yysT-ISmwteaRvh8k-UkSk8N78-ed-FIDWSHdfauaW532wnMkxdesyaedRsUiRD0VSFxPrAkaxaxAJup6k3xW3tzCKitRLNKTP9vHf3K.

Schwartz, Rafi. “What Reclassifying Cannabis Could Change.” The Week, The Week US, 9 May 2024, theweek.com/health/cannabis-schedulei-reclassification-biden-pot-medical-marijuana.

Whitehurst, Lindsay. “Justice Department Formally Moves to Reclassify Marijuana as a Less Dangerous Drug in Historic Shift.” AP News, Associated Press, 16 May 2024, apnews.com/article/marijuana-rescheduling-drug-policy-biden-15b43441670757b0c2bfa36731e47d07?taid=66463d1eb1e0420001865f60&utm_campaign=TrueAnthem&utm_medium=AP&utm_source=Twitter.