Last week’s leaked letter from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommending that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance under federal law was lacking for advocates who want to see it descheduled. 

All of the OG cannabis reformers are weighing in. Congressman Earl Blumenauer has been involved in cannabis reform for 50 years. He founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in 2017. 

“This is a step in the right direction, but it is not sufficient. I hope it is followed by more significant reforms,” Blumenauer said. “This is long overdue.”

Blumenauer noted he pushed the Biden Administration to deschedule marijuana last December. Later in the spring, he called for more transparency in the wider Controlled Substances Act scheduling process. 

NORML, the nation’s oldest marijuana reform organization, noted the DEA said as recently as 2016, cannabis had no current accepted medical use regardless of all the babies with Dravet’s Syndrome that started the CBD explosion making national headlines for years at that point. The DEA will have the final say in all of this; we know how it went the last four times. 

NORML’s deputy director and longtime policy ninja, Paul Armentano, weighed in on the letter.

“It will be very interesting to see how DEA responds to this recommendation, given the agency’s historic opposition to any potential change in cannabis’ categorization under federal law,”  Armentano said. “Further, for decades, the agency has utilized its own five-factor criteria for assessing cannabis’ placement in the CSA — criteria that as recently as 2016, the agency claimed that cannabis failed to meet. Since the agency has final say over any rescheduling decision, it is safe to say that this process still remains far from over.”

Like Blumenauer, NORML has been calling for cannabis to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act for years. They recommend doing it in a manner that’s similar to liquor and tobacco. 

“The goal of any federal cannabis policy reform ought to be to address the existing, untenable chasm between federal marijuana policy and the cannabis laws of the majority of US states,” Armentano said. “Rescheduling the cannabis plant to Schedule III of the US Controlled Substances Act fails to adequately address this conflict, as existing state legalization laws — both adult use and medical — will continue to be in conflict with federal regulations, thereby perpetuating the existing divide between state and federal marijuana policies.”

Armentano closed, noting it’s the same level of intellectual dishonesty to categorize cannabis next to anabolic steroids as it is in its current situation on the list next to heroin.

With the US recreational cannabis market worth more than ever, it would seem something is going to have to be done to remedy the situation. Last week, California announced it had taken in just over $5 billion since the legal market kicked off in 2018, New York City’s first shop did $12 million in its first six months, and there are about 50 more data points off the top of my head why states aren’t going to let this fly. 

In the end, descheduling is likely. But the road is going to be a bit longer. And you can expect it to be the result of a future Congress and White House taking some kind of mandated action that the DEA won’t have a say in. 

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