Biden’s Health Team Mulls Marijuana Reclassification

It seems the Biden administration might finally be catching a whiff of the 21st century when it comes to marijuana legislation. Health bigwigs in the administration have hinted at downgrading marijuana from its archaic and, frankly, laughable classification as a perilous and strictly controlled substance. But is this the change we’ve been waiting for?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is throwing its weight behind a proposal to rebrand marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. Sounds technical, right? In simpler terms, this would mean the feds no longer see marijuana as a ‘dangerous’ drug with zero medical perks and a high addiction risk. Still, the ball is now in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) court for final approval.

The significance? This long-overdue shift would actually align marijuana’s federal status with, you know, actual science. Many have argued, and rightly so, that pot’s position as a Schedule I drug – where it’s deemed riskier than substances like oxycodone or even cocaine – was more about racially-driven policies aimed at sidelining Black communities than any genuine health concerns. And let’s not forget that Schedule I is home to heavy hitters like heroin, while Schedule III drugs, where marijuana might soon find itself, are seen as having “moderate to low” addiction risks and include substances like testosterone.

However, the big elephant in the room remains: Would reclassifying cannabis significantly impact how it’s penalized? Because as of now, marijuana enjoys a sort of unique treatment among Schedule I drugs.

Despite substantial evidence showcasing the medical benefits of marijuana, researchers have found their hands tied when attempting to study the drug in-depth due to the existing tight restrictions. A Schedule I label means hefty hurdles for scientists trying to access enough quantities for research, keeping a myriad of potential medical applications in the dark.

This whole reconsideration circus was set into motion when the White House pushed HHS last year to rethink marijuana’s scheduling. And let’s not forget Biden’s commendable gesture to pardon simple marijuana possession offenses. But many hoped this review would lead to total de-scheduling, shifting control to states, and, more importantly, halting the disproportionate impact on Black communities from criminalization.

Paul Armentano of NORML, a pro-cannabis organization, hit the nail on the head, underscoring the inadequate resolution of the federal-state conflict in marijuana legislation. Justin Strekal, NORML’s former political director, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that this isn’t decriminalization, it’s just rebranded criminalization.

So, while this feels like a step forward in federal marijuana policy, it’s worth questioning if it’s the giant leap many were hoping for or just a sidestep that leaves the core issues unaddressed.