DEA to consider rescheduling marijuana - for the fourth time

July 10, 2016

Will the DEA finally reclassify marijuana to schedule 2?

Ned MilenkovichOn April 4, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wrote a letter to several U.S. Senators signaling its plan to decide whether marijuana should be reclassified under federal law in “the first half of 2016.” The DEA letter came in response to a 2015 letter drafted by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and seven other Democratic senators asserting that the federal government should provide for research into marijuana’s medical benefits.

The DEA, in its response letter, does not conclusively indicate whether it will reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I.

Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg signed the letter, as did Sylvia Burwell, the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Michael Botticelli, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Besides Sen. Warren, seven other Democratic senators received the response letter. In 2015, these seven senators sponsored a bill that would reduce the federal government’s ability to enforce against state-legalized medical marijuana programs, while also encouraging more research on marijuana.

The DEA letter describes in detail the marijuana supply available at the University of Mississippi, which is where the federal government houses its only sanctioned marijuana cultivation center.

Deliberations past and present

This is not the first time that DEA has been asked to look in to the reclassification of marijuana. In 2001 and 2006, and again in 2011, DEA considered petitions requesting that marijuana be reclassified, but each time DEA decided to keep marijuana a Schedule I substance.

Schedule I is reserved for drugs DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and for which there is no currently acceptable medical use. Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, along with other drugs such as heroin and LSD.

In its letter, DEA indicates that it has received recommendations about reclassification of marijuana from other agencies, such as HHS. Allegedly, the agency looked into making an in-depth review of the medical evidence supporting marijuana’s safety and efficacy. Of interest, DEA’s letter does not disclose the recommendation that resulted.

Once DEA makes its decision, the public may request an administrative hearing to voice opinions about the decision. After the hearing, the DEA would then review its decision and make a final determination, which then could be challenged again in court by those who disagree with it.

 

A bumpy ride

The possibility of a change in category for marijuana gives rise to the prospect of some turbulence, since many states have already provided for the passage of disparate laws that relegate the growing and dispensing of marijuana to specified licensees without regard to existing federal laws; a change in classification means that the licensees may be exposed to a new level of competition and federal regulation.

Although it is largely unclear whether DEA will move away from its traditional position maintaining the present classification of  marijuana, there has been an unprecedented movement from industry stakeholders to bring political pressure on DEA to reschedule marijuana. This has included asking President Obama to make such reclassification a priority before he leaves office.