There has been a lot of discussion at the federal level 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, cannabis activists in our country have advocated for decades about the medical properties to cannabis.
The status of cannabis in the United States has long been a subject of controversy. Recently, President Biden’s Administration has considered rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule 1 substance to a Schedule 3 substance. Federal health officials determined cannabis poses a lower public health risk than other controlled substances . According to documents released last week officials proposed removing its designation among the riskiest drugs, . This is the first time the Department of Health and Human Services has publicly acknowledged cannabis’s medical use. In August, the agency recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) change cannabis’s classification as a Schedule I drug. Shcedule 1 is reserved for substances that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. The DEA has yet to act on this recommendation.
Federal Cannabis Rescheduling
The political conversation about cannabis 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 know, there are increasing calls for the reform of cannabis laws, especially in light of its medicinal potential. Various states have legalized medical cannabis, 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 cocaine is a Schedule 2 drug under the CSA. This classifies it as having a high potential for abuse, but also classified as having an accepted medical use. If the federal government reschedules cannabis, it would still remain a controlled substance subject to federal regulations and oversight.
As pointed out by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), rescheduling would:
- not end the criminality of cannabis
- release anyone in prison for cannabis;
- restore rights and access to public benefits (such as housing assistance);
- protect state cannabis regulatory programs or their patients or consumers;
- protect workers in the cannabis industry;
- or end the country’s failed approach to cannabis 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 would remove allow states to determine their own cannabis policies without federal interference.
The momentum for descheduling continues to build. 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.
Advocacy and Presidential Expectations
“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—cannabis. Removing cannabis from the CSA –descheduling cannabis – is necessary to repair the devastation wrought by the war on drugs, repair communities, and achieve common sense cannabis reform that benefits everyone.
The Impact of Rescheduling
Rescheduling would continue cannabis criminalization at the federal level and would continue to harm individuals, families and communities across the United States.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, Executive Director of cannabis 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.”
A Three-Step Proposal for Cannabis Decriminalization
United for cannabis Decriminalization, a group of the nation’s leading 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 cannabis, 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 cannabis-based conduct, seeking reduced sentences, and ending cannabis-related deportations.
- Repair the Harm: by expanding pardons and commutations to go beyond simple cannabis possession, and restoring benefits for those with previous convictions (and calling on states to do the same).
- Support Legalization and Regulation: Explicitly support cannabis 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.