Biden Administration Moves To Reclassify Marijuana As A Less Dangerous Drug

President Joe Biden’s administration said Thursday that the Justice Department is officially moving forward with reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

With the White House’s approval, the DOJ will now publish an official notice that opens a two-month public comment period on the proposal to recategorize marijuana from a Schedule I drug ― which includes heroin and other drugs considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” ― to a lower Schedule III drug, which includes substances with “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”

“This is monumental,” Biden said in a video posted to social media.

“Far too many lives have been upended because of failed approach to marijuana. And I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” he continued.

Following the public comment period, the Drug Enforcement Administration, which falls under the DOJ umbrella, will be able to assign an administrative law judge to make a final recommendation on rescheduling.

A flower bud of marijuana.
A flower bud of marijuana. via Associated Press

A Schedule III classification would not make marijuana legal on the federal level, though dozens of states have taken matters into their own hands and legalized the substance at a state level, citing evidence of the drug’s medical properties and the absence of any deaths linked to the drug.

Drugs listed under the Schedule III classification include ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone and some substances with a limited amount of codeine.

The National Cannabis Industry Association applauded Thursday’s news but said more progress needed to be made.

“On behalf of thousands of legal businesses operating across the country, we commend President Biden for taking this important first step toward a more rational marijuana policy,” Aaron Smith, the group’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. “Now it’s time for Congress to enact legislation that would protect our industry, uphold public safety, and advance the will of the voters who overwhelmingly support making cannabis legal for adults.”

At a press briefing about the rescheduling Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that Biden has pardoned “a record number of federal offenses for simply possessing marijuana,” and that “his actions today further his commitment to reverse longstanding injustices and to right historical wrongs.”

However, several legislators said in a letter to the DEA last month that rescheduling isn’t enough.

A cannabis shop is in midtown Manhattan.
A cannabis shop is in midtown Manhattan. via Associated Press

While moving cannabis to Schedule III “would mark a significant step forward, it would not resolve the worst harms of the current system,” they wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.)

Jean-Pierre acknowledged those inequities at Thursday’s press briefing.

“The reality is while white, Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” she noted.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who’s behind a bill to decriminalize cannabis, was among those who said ending the prosecution of marijuana-related offenses should be a natural next step.

“It’s official, the Biden administration has taken a historic step toward ending reefer madness and bringing commonsense to federal cannabis policy,” he said in a statement. “Now it’s time to follow the lead of 24 states and more than half the country by decriminalizing and putting in place smart federal regulations.”