DEA Chief Seeks Clarity on Cannabis Rescheduling

August 11, 2023 · Cannabis Now

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Administer Anne Milgram told lawmakers that she will seek clarity from the Department of Health and Human Services on the timeline for the Biden administration’s review of the scheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The commitment to lawmakers came at a recent congressional legislative committee hearing, where lawmakers questioned the DEA head on scheduling review. President Joseph Biden ordered his administration to review the scheduling of cannabis under federal drug laws in an executive order last year, at the same time pardoning thousands of federal convictions for marijuana possession.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a designation indicating that a drug has no accepted medical value and a high propensity for abuse. The classification groups cannabis with more dangerous and addictive drugs such as heroin, making marijuana difficult to research and illegal at the federal level. The federal cannabis ban continues despite broad reforms by states across the nation that have resulted in the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 23 states and the legalization of medical marijuana in 38 states.

Biden Called for Scheduling Review Last Year

Biden called for the scheduling review in October 2022 when he pardoned thousands of federal marijuana possession convictions. At a hearing of the House Judiciary Crime and Federal Government Surveillance Subcommittee late last month, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida asked Milgram how the administration’s examination of cannabis scheduling was progressing. Milgram told the committee that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is conducting a scientific review of cannabis, had not yet submitted a scheduling recommendation. Once the HHS submits its recommendations to the DEA, she added, the agency will conduct its own review and open a public comment period before making a final determination on rescheduling cannabis under the CSA.

“We have constant conversations with HHS and with FDA, but we have not been given a specific timeline” for the scheduling review, Milgram told lawmakers.

Gaetz then asked Milgram if she would request such a timeline from HHS. “I will ask,” the DEA head replied. Gaetz probed further, asking Milgram if the DEA had any reason to oppose removing cannabis from Schedule I of the CSA. She told the congressman that she “couldn’t prejudge it at this point in time” without input from HHS and the DEA’s own review of cannabis.

“As the head of the DEA, I will ultimately be responsible for signing off on what the scheduling is,” Milgram said.

Gaetz then requested that the DEA consider evidence showing that legalizing and regulating cannabis has resulted in a reduction in prescriptions for opioids as it conducts its review and formulates recommendations on the rescheduling of cannabis.

“You have my full commitment, congressman, that I will keep an open mind. I will look at all the research,” she said. “I expect that we will get additional public comment or research that comes in, and I will look at all of it.”

Gaetz wrapped up his questioning of Milgram by noting that removing marijuana from Schedule 1 of the CSA would ease restrictions on cannabis research. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Texas, then backed his Republican colleague, noting that throughout his 17 years in Congress, he has heard “governmental gibberish about marijuana” from the executive branch.

“The government has messed this up forever—and you need to get ahead of the railroad,” Cohen told Milgram. “You’re gonna get something from HHS. Biden understands that should be reclassified. He said from [Schedule] I to III,” jokingly adding that “it ought to be classified from I to 420, and we ought to just clean it up and get over with it.”

At one point during the committee hearing, Milgram told lawmakers that Biden “had sent a letter to the secretary of HHS and to the attorney general to ask for the scheduling—descheduling process to begin.” Matt Zorn, an attorney, then filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for a copy of the president’s letter. Last week, the HHS responded to the request, writing that the agency had “conducted a search” concluding that “there are no records responsive to your request.” Zorn then published an open letter to Gaetz, calling on him to “follow up with DEA” about the letter cited by Milgram, which could provide transparency into the administration’s review of cannabis scheduling.

“There are aspects of this process that the public doesn’t need to, and probably shouldn’t, be privy to,” Zorn told Marijuana Moment on Thursday. “But the basic milestones like the document that starts the process, we should be able to examine. Congress should have it; the public should have it. That’s not asking too much.” (Full Story)

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