The DEA is reportedly considering reclassifying marijuana on the federal drug schedule

It would become a Schedule III drug, which are considered to have “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”

By Alexandra HartMay 1, 2024 11:37 am,

A historic shift in marijuana policy may be imminent.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is moving to reclassify cannabis, removing it from the list of Schedule I substances. If the policy is approved, it could be the biggest change in DEA policy in decades. The move could also have major implications on pharmaceutical applications for medical marijuana and its derivatives. 

Frank Snyder, professor of law at Texas A&M School of Law, joined the Standard to discuss what the move means for marijuana policy. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: This move by the DEA would reclassify marijuana to a Schedule III drug. What does that mean, practically speaking?

Frank Snyder: I want to echo what you just said. This is probably the largest change DEA policy in forever.

What it means, basically, is it takes marijuana off Schedule I, and that means the most stringent regulation is moved down to Schedule III. Schedule III is the part of the schedule that contains things like ketamine, codeine, anabolic steroids, testosterone – things that aren’t very dangerous but do require prescriptions. And that makes a significant difference in the penalties that will be applied in the cases.

Well, we’re talking about federal cases, presumably because states have created a kind of quilt of new laws across the nation, right?

Absolutely. This only goes toward federal law, and the feds essentially never arrest anyone for simple possession of marijuana. And they generally, under some funding constraints they have, they don’t go after marijuana businesses in states where it is legal.

So technically, it doesn’t make any real change in state requirements. What it does mean is that the feds are lining up, and therefore the states are much more likely to relax their own regulations and allow for greater scope for their businesses.

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Why does it appear the DEA is considering this now? And why is this so significant?

This is the move that a lot of us, myself included, have been arguing should have been made in 2016 or even before that.

Marijuana is a substance that has some medical benefits, and it also has some risk of addiction, although not physical addiction like alcohol or heroin. And therefore it needs to be, in many of our opinions, on the federal schedule.

What it’s going to mean is that the FDA can now seriously begin considering marijuana-derived products and allow them to be sold through pharmacies and theoretically go on to insurance forms as legal drugs. And that’s a big change in the legalities.

The other thing it means is that from the federal perspective, you go from a potential of having ten years in prison for possession to one year.

So, during this rule-making process, I gather that there will be a consideration of public comment. Well, what about the fact that a shift like this will not be without its critics? What are the arguments against reclassifying marijuana as Schedule III?

Well, I think it’s probably the same arguments that people have made about legalizing marijuana at all.

There’s a substantial group of people out there who oppose it as a gateway drug, rightly or wrongly. There are also industries, like cigarets and alcohol and other similar industries, who would just as soon not have it available as recreational. And there’s those who in the industry are worried that their particular niche market will be taken over by Big Pharma. And so I think those are the basic comments that people will want to make.

My feeling – and this is just my feeling – that the Biden administration or the Trump administration, whatever we’re going to wind up with, if they say we want to do this, the FDA will figure out a way to explain away all the bad comments and focus on the good ones, and that will take some time to get that squared away.

So when I say it’s a done deal, it’s not technically a done deal, but I think that the DEA is almost certainly going to make this change. And I think either administration that’s incoming will be in favor of that. And that being the case, I think it’s going to happen.

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