You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – The DEA and Congress Are Bitching at Each Other about Rescheduling Marijuana

January 11, 2024 · Cannabis.net

The consumption of marijuana has surged dramatically, with a notable instance in Michigan, where recreational use has recently been legalized. In its first year, marijuana sales are poised to exceed $3 billion, propelled by a remarkable performance in July.

This upswing can be attributed to Generation Z opting for marijuana over alcohol, considering it a healthier alternative. However, the industry faces challenges such as disorderly state enforcement, burdensome taxes, and restrictive regulations, including the absence of interstate commerce, leading to significant disruptions.

Lawmakers’ Push for Cannabis Reform: Urgency, Criticism, and Response

A Democratic congressman is urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to expedite its evaluation of marijuana and adhere to the recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reclassify cannabis to Schedule III.

In a letter addressed to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Thursday, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) expressed gratitude for the opportunity to discuss the scheduling review process during a House subcommittee hearing in July.

However, he emphasized the need for the agency to accelerate the task completion. Since the mentioned hearing, HHS has concluded its scientific assessment of cannabis, advising the DEA to move it from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Congressman Steve Cohen strongly told the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to listen to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advice. He said it’s essential to speed up the DEA’s review process and quickly make new rules.

Cohen said that putting marijuana in Schedule I was a big mistake in the past. It led to very harsh and unfair prison sentences, especially for people of color. In a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, he talked about how this affected society, especially in marginalized communities. He also mentioned that almost half of the states had already allowed people to use marijuana for fun.

Cohen told Milgram directly that she can make history by making positive changes. He talked about the efforts in Congress to change the rules about marijuana and said it’s essential to fix the unfair and wrong policy. Cohen wanted Milgram to take decisive action to bring justice and fix the problems caused by the current rules on marijuana.

Congressman Steve Cohen strongly supports ending the federal ban on marijuana. He’s urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to act quickly. Cohen stressed the importance of prompt action, saying, “The DEA should move as fast as possible on this, and I hope to see a proposal on this issue soon.”

Cohen’s stance aligns with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation to reclassify marijuana to Schedule III potentially. However, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) mentioned that while it’s “likely” the DEA will follow the HHS recommendation, the DEA has asserted its “final authority” in making scheduling decisions, regardless of HHS findings.

In a recent letter to lawmakers, the DEA clarified its role: “DEA has the final authority to schedule, reschedule, or deschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act, after considering relevant criteria and HHS’s evaluation.” The agency emphasized that it is conducting a thorough review before deciding on marijuana scheduling.

Cohen’s push for quick action reflects his belief in urgently addressing marijuana’s current Schedule I classification. The complexities between HHS recommendations and DEA authority highlight the importance of carefully evaluating scientific evidence and regulations in decision-making.

DEA’s Controversial Role in Marijuana Rescheduling: A Tug-of-War on Federal Action

Biden’s slow progress toward federal action was significantly boosted when his administration sought rescheduling last year. However, the DEA has recently stirred controversy over the issue of marijuana rescheduling. Traditionally at the forefront of the War on Drugs, the DEA has asserted its role as the ultimate decision-maker in this matter.

In a letter addressed to Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Michael Miller, who is currently acting as the Chief of the Office of Congressional Affairs at the DEA, shed light on the ongoing examination of potentially reclassifying marijuana. This entire process was set in motion following a directive from President Biden in October 2022.

The initial step involved a scientific evaluation carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which recommended the reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

This recommendation surfaced in August. Subsequently, the DEA is now conducting a thorough review of the situation, as outlined in the letter that was reported by Punchbowl News just last month. This dual-layered examination process is part of the broader initiative to understand and potentially modify the current scheduling of marijuana within the regulatory framework.

According to the DEA, they hold the ultimate decision-making power to schedule, reschedule, or deschedule a drug according to the Controlled Substances Act. They explain that the decision was made after considering relevant statutory and regulatory criteria and the scientific and medical evaluation conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Currently, the DEA is actively conducting its comprehensive review.”

Presidential Influence and Policy Impact

President Joe Biden issued an executive order in October 2022 asking federal cabinet-level bodies to reassess marijuana’s legal categorization in the United States. This action served as the impetus for the possible rescheduling of marijuana.

In response to Biden’s order, the Department of Health and Human Services suggested on August 29 that the DEA take into consideration reclassifying marijuana from its present Schedule 1 classification to Schedule 3 within the Controlled Substances Act.

Significant federal tax reform for financially suffering legal cannabis companies is possible with this proposed reclassification, which may also spur additional progress on federal marijuana reform programs.

However, the DEA must carefully analyze and then formally propose a modification to federal law before any amendments can take effect. A group of Democratic governors has already requested the Biden administration to reschedule marijuana by the end of 2023.

Even though this request was granted, it appears that the question of marijuana rescheduling is one of when rather than if. According to a Congressional Research Service analysis, the DEA should follow the HHS proposal.

Amid these developments, Democratic Representative Blumenauer of Oregon stressed in a memo on Wednesday that President Biden’s chances of winning reelection this year could be improved by pushing for marijuana policy change.

After his legislative term ends on January 3, 2025, Blumenauer—who has long supported cannabis use and co-chairs the House’s legislative Cannabis Caucus—plans to retire.

Conclusion

The emotional call from Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to promptly reassess and reclassify marijuana highlights a critical juncture in the ongoing debate over cannabis regulation. Cohen’s plea aligns with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation to shift marijuana to Schedule III, emphasizing the urgency of rectifying the historical misclassification that disproportionately affected marginalized communities. (Full Story)

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