If Weed Is Rescheduled, Does That Mean It Is Now Federally Legal? (And Other Questions You Were Afraid to Ask)

October 8, 2023 · Cannabis.net

The discussion surrounding the legalization of marijuana has been prevalent in recent years, with numerous states choosing to take matters into their own hands rather than relying on federal action.

Now, there is a glimmer of hope for nationwide legalization as federal health authorities have proposed reclassifying marijuana. However, this does not necessarily translate to full legalization.

Currently categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance, marijuana is considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has submitted its findings on marijuana to the DEA, suggesting that it be reclassified as a Schedule III substance. This classification implies a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” placing it in the same category as ketamine and anabolic steroids.

While this recommendation appears promising, it does not usher in an immediate transformation for marijuana. The DEA will require time to deliberate on reclassification, and even if it does occur, marijuana will remain subject to federal regulations and rules. Furthermore, federal-level recreational legalization would not automatically follow, and marijuana would continue to be a controlled substance.

It is important to note that reclassification could, however, pave the way for increased research opportunities, as Schedule III drugs are easier to study compared to Schedule I drugs.

Additionally, it could potentially lead to a reduction in the federal taxes paid by cannabis companies. Currently, businesses involved in the “trafficking” of marijuana or other Schedule I or II drugs are unable to deduct expenses such as rent and payroll under the federal tax code. This has led to tax rates of 70% or higher for many cannabis businesses, despite their compliance with state licensing regulations.

As for the current legal landscape, nearly two dozen states have already legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, and thirty-eight states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Recent additions to the list of legalized states include Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Missouri.

The interactive map below displays the status of marijuana legalization in each state as of June 2023, based on data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The potential reclassification of marijuana raises questions about its impact on these states. Natacha Andrews, executive director of the National Association of Black Cannabis Lawyers, expressed concerns in an interview, suggesting that it could disrupt existing state programs.

She emphasized that state-level legalization may be at odds with federal actions, leaving uncertainty about the next steps the DEA will take. As a result, some states may encounter difficulties or disruptions while others may remain unaffected.

The Road to Reclassification: Understanding the Process

Reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance is a complex journey with several key steps and considerations. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation has sparked hope for some, it’s essential to comprehend the intricacies involved in this potential shift.

At present, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This classification places it in the same category as drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Schedule I substances are characterized by their perceived lack of medical utility and high potential for abuse. This classification has long been a barrier to both research and nationwide legalization efforts.

The pivotal moment in the journey toward reclassification came when the HHS submitted its findings to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), proposing that marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule III substance. Schedule III drugs, like ketamine and anabolic steroids, are considered to have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” This recommendation indicates a potential shift in the federal government’s stance on marijuana, acknowledging its therapeutic potential and lower risk profile than other controlled substances.

While the HHS recommendation is a significant development, it is crucial to recognize that reclassification is not guaranteed. The DEA holds the authority to make the final decision, which may take time. The DEA will conduct its own review, considering scientific evidence, public input, and other factors before rendering a decision. It’s important for advocates, policymakers, and stakeholders to monitor this decision-making process and its outcomes closely.

Even if marijuana is reclassified as a Schedule III substance, it does not mean immediate nationwide legalization or decriminalization. Federal regulations and rules governing its use and distribution would still apply. However, reclassification could bring about important changes, including increased research opportunities and potential tax relief for cannabis businesses.

State-Level Challenges and Considerations Amid Federal Changes

The looming prospect of reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance brings forth various state-level challenges and considerations, particularly for states that have already legalized marijuana. The crux of the issue lies in the conflict between state and federal laws. While individual states have enacted laws permitting and regulating cannabis, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, creating legal uncertainties that ripple through the system.

This legal incongruity has significant implications. It affects not only cannabis businesses but also individuals who abide by state laws permitting cannabis consumption and cultivation. The conflict between state and federal regulations remains a central concern, as it introduces complications and questions surrounding enforcement, compliance, and the overall legality of cannabis-related activities.

Additionally, the proposed reclassification has raised concerns about the stability of existing state-level cannabis programs. States that have invested considerable resources in establishing and regulating their cannabis industries fear that federal actions could disrupt these established systems. The potential for divergent state responses further adds to the complexity, with states likely to react differently to federal changes depending on their unique legal and political contexts. The need for clarity and cooperation between state and federal governments is evident as they seek to address these challenges and ensure the continued effectiveness of state cannabis programs amidst evolving federal regulations.

Bottom Line

While the reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III offers a glimmer of hope for nationwide legalization, it does not guarantee immediate transformation. Federal regulations and rules would still apply, and full legalization remains a separate challenge. Nevertheless, this potential shift could unlock research opportunities and alleviate tax burdens for cannabis businesses. State-level challenges, including conflicts between state and federal laws and concerns about program disruptions, emphasize the need for cooperation and clarity between governments. The road to nationwide cannabis legalization is intricate, with numerous uncertainties, making ongoing vigilance and engagement by stakeholders essential in shaping the future of cannabis policy. (Full Story)

In categories:Legal Legalization
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