DEA Pressed by Lawmakers to Act on Cannabis Rescheduling – Road to Legalization and Beyond

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was prompted by the Biden administration in 2022 to review cannabis to figure out whether it should be rescheduled. HHS finished the review and published its findings in August 2023. Now all eyes are on the DEA to make the final ruling. Lawmakers are now pressing them to speed it up.

In a recent letter to the DEA, Rep. Earl Bluemauer urged DEA regulators to come clean about their ongoing cannabis review and a potential deadline for making a decision.

Bluemauer and his Congressional Cannabis Caucus peers also want to know if the DEA is that all because more than three dozen states have decriminalized hemp to one degree or another.

The DEA Asserts Its Authority

Bluemauer and his colleagues have been tussling with the DEA since the summer of 2023. For its part, the DEA has consistently asserted its authority to make the final ruling on rescheduling cannabis. Under the Controlled Substances Act, the agency does indeed have that authority. All HHS can do is offer a recommendation.

While the Congressional Cannabis Caucus recognizes the DEA’s authority in the matter, they also do not want the agency to continue slow-walking its review in hopes that the issue will be forgotten. Bluemauer and his colleagues intend to keep the heat on. Their most recent letter sent to the DEA asks the following five questions:

  1. What is the DEA’s planned deadline to publish its draft rule on the scheduling of marijuana for public comment?
  2. What is the standard timeline for DEA’s drug scheduling reviews?
  3. On what date did the DEA begin its review following receipt of HHS’s findings and recommendation on marijuana scheduling?
  4. How is the DEA ensuring the agency’s review incorporates the status of marijuana under state laws and regulations in its scheduling decision?
  5. How will the DEA proactively communicate developments and receive feedback from congressional partners as the review proceeds?

The text of the questions makes the pro-cannabis group’s intentions clear. They are tired of waiting for answers. They are tired of DEA secrecy. They want to know what is going on with the review and when they can expect a clear decision.

Rescheduling Has Its Challenges

Rescheduling Has Its Challenges

Rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III is seen by some as a compromise between federal lawmakers who want to completely legalize hemp and those who are willing to legalize it only for medical purposes. Yet rescheduling has its challenges. It would not eliminate all of the conflicts that exist between state and federal laws.

For example, a medical cannabis patient in Utah can visit the Zion Medicinal pharmacy in Cedar City while in possession of a legal medical cannabis card issued by the state. A card gives the patient the legal right to purchase medical hemp. Would rescheduling jeopardize that right?

Rescheduling medical cannabis would automatically put it under the purview of the FDA. For the FDA to approve medical cannabis, it would either have to require the typical review process – which could take up to 10 years – or violate its own rules and approve medical hemp based on the fact that so many people already use it.

Other issues come with rescheduling, issues that space will not allow for this post. The bottom line is that both lawmakers and regulators are waiting patiently for the DEA to finish its review. Yet that patience is wearing off. Some lawmakers are urging the DEA to move a little faster while everyone waits for a decision.

Public Health Considerations

The potential public health implications of cannabis rescheduling are vast and multifaceted. Rescheduling could lead to shifts in substance use patterns, with the possibility of increased cannabis use due to reduced legal restrictions and stigma.

This change might influence addiction rates, either positively or negatively, depending on the extent of regulation and the effectiveness of public health interventions. Furthermore, mental health outcomes are a significant concern, as hemp use has been associated with various mental health conditions, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

The challenge lies in balancing the therapeutic benefits of cannabis against the risks of increased prevalence of use and potential mental health impacts, necessitating comprehensive research and monitoring post-rescheduling.

Social Equity and Justice

Social Equity and Justice

Cannabis rescheduling has profound implications for social equity and justice. Historically, the enforcement of cannabis laws has disproportionately affected marginalized communities, leading to higher rates of conviction and incarceration for cannabis-related offenses among these populations.

Rescheduling could pave the way for the expungement of past cannabis-related convictions, offering a form of redress for those unjustly impacted by previous policies.

Moreover, it could contribute to rectifying the systemic inequities within the criminal justice system, promoting a more equitable and just approach to hemp regulation and enforcement.

Economic Effects

The economic implications of cannabis rescheduling are significant, with the potential to stimulate growth within the hemp industry, create jobs, and generate substantial tax revenue.

This shift could open up new opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly in communities that have been adversely affected by previous cannabis laws.

However, the transition must be managed carefully to ensure that the economic benefits are distributed equitably and do not lead to the monopolization of the industry by a few large players. The economic impact of rescheduling extends beyond the hemp industry, potentially influencing related sectors such as agriculture, retail, and healthcare.

Patient Access and Affordability

Patient Access and Affordability

Rescheduling cannabis could have a profound impact on patient access to medical hemp, potentially improving affordability and insurance coverage for cannabis-based treatments.

Currently, the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance in the United States limits its availability for medical use and research. Rescheduling could lead to an expansion of available hemp-based products, enhancing patient choice and access to treatments that may be beneficial for a range of conditions.

However, ensuring that these products are affordable and covered by insurance remains a critical challenge that must be addressed to maximize the benefits of rescheduling for patients.

International Implications

Cannabis rescheduling in the United States could catalyze global change, influencing attitudes and policies toward hemp in other countries.

As a leader in international policy and a significant influencer of global drug policy trends, the U.S. rescheduling of cannabis might encourage other nations to reconsider their hemp laws, especially in regions where cannabis remains highly restricted or illegal.

This shift could contribute to a more harmonized global approach to hemp regulation, facilitating research, trade, and cooperation in cannabis-related endeavors.

Education and Awareness Campaigns

Education and Awareness Campaigns

In the context of changing regulatory frameworks, public education and awareness campaigns about the potential benefits and risks of hemp use are crucial.

These campaigns should aim to provide balanced and evidence-based information to consumers and healthcare providers, facilitating informed decision-making.

Education efforts should focus on the safe use of cannabis, potential side effects, and the importance of consulting healthcare professionals when considering hemp for medical purposes.

As regulatory landscapes evolve, ongoing public education will be essential to mitigate the risks associated with increased accessibility and use of cannabis.

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