top of page

DEA Rescheduling of Cannabis

DEA Rescheduling of Cannabis

It should come as no surprise by now that I write these articles from the past. Currently, it’s around mid May, I’ve put away my light jacket for the foreseeable future, and unfortunately I have no way of knowing what’s happening by the time you’re reading this. What I do know is that I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines recently about the DEA rescheduling cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. As much as I wish I were as prescient as I sometimes pretend to be, all I can do now is give you some basic facts, speculate wildly and share my opinions - which, to be honest, is what I do most of the time anyway. Fortunately for us though, the process ahead for rescheduling cannabis is likely to be a long one, so we should have plenty of time to talk about what’s happening and what it might mean.

What’s Going On?

Currently, cannabis - or as it is referred to by the federal government, marijuana - is classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I substances are drugs that, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), have no “currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. In addition to cannabis, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, peyote and methaqualone - commonly known as quaaludes or ludes - are all currently classified as schedule I drugs. In 2023, President Biden asked the federal Health and Human Services Department (HHS) and the Attorney General to review the current classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug. 

While it is difficult for me to say that the President has been pro legalization throughout his entire political career, I will say that he has been openly open to the idea of like, chilling out a little bit when it comes to federal cannabis regulation and that’s a pretty big deal. Also to the President’s credit, this request came after he issued a presidential proclamation in October of 2022 that “pardoned many federal and D.C. offenses for simple marijuana possession offenses”, and was expanded in December of 2023 to cover even more simple use and possession convictions.

The “federally chilling out a bit” in this case comes in the form of a proposal from the Attorney General that was confirmed by the Associated Press at the end of April, 2024. It’s this proposal that would reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III if approved, allowing cannabis to join the ranks of ketamine and anabolic steroids. 

Put in the simplest of terms, what’s happening is that we are at the beginning of what could be a years-long rescheduling process.

The Rescheduling Process

As of the time I am writing this, it was reported in the Associated Press that the director of public affairs for the Justice Department, Xochitl Hinojosa, confirmed in a statement that the proposal had been circulated by the Attorney General and that once it was published by the Federal Register it will “initiate the formal rule-making process”. Now, unsurprisingly, all of this federal legalese is not the easiest to wrap my occasionally smooth brain around, but I gave it my best shot. 

I was going to start this portion with “this is where it gets complicated”, but let’s be real, the DEA hasn’t made a change like this in nearly 50 years so it’s all more complicated than I’d like. One thing I found in my research was conflicting information about the proposal - or to be fair, a misunderstanding on my part. The AP reported Director Hinojosa’s statement on April 30th, 2024 that a proposal to reschedule had been circulated, and as of May 14th, Reuters is reporting that “it is unknown whether the DEA already crafted a proposed rule, or whether the announcement is just the beginning of that process.” What I take this to mean is that we are in the very early stages of a very long administrative rule-making process. 

First, the proposal will have to be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Once approved by the OMB, the DEA will be open to public comment on the proposal, which opens it up to potentially more revisions before it can be applied by the DEA. The proposal may also be subject to Congressional review under the Congressional Rule Act (CRA, 5 U.S.C §§801-808)  , as it is “likely to result in an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more” 5 U.S.C. § 804(2) once put into effect. 

The move to Schedule III will also make cannabis subject to regulation by the FDA. For a little bit of context, we’ve talked before about the 2018 Farm Bill and CBD regulations. Currently, the rule-making regarding hemp-derived CBD is in its sixth year, so this could be a very long process ahead of us when you consider the undertaking of cannabis as a whole. 

Why is This a Big Deal?

You might be thinking, if it’s going to take so long, is this even that big of a deal? The short answer is, in my opinion, yes. Let’s put aside all of the complicated red tape and committee meetings for the foreseeable future and focus on what Schedule III compared to Schedule I means for cannabis. 

One of the first things that I always think of when it comes to changing minds about the perception of cannabis is stigma. There was so much anti-cannabis propaganda for so long that it permeated our culture. I think it’s fair to say that there has been an incredible and noticeable decrease in the negative portrayal of cannabis and cannabis users in our current day and age, but the stigma is deeply ingrained. I mean, just look at the other Schedule I drugs. Heroin and quaaludes are pretty intense, don’t you think? It may be a minor thing, but the reframing of cannabis to a Schedule of drugs that are accepted as medicinal by the federal government might cause a change of perception in some of the most skeptical. 

For example, I recently spoke with a lovely person in Lubbock a few months back who, by the nature of our conversation, asked about this article that I write. We were speaking over the phone, but my assumption was that this was a nice southern lady who was confused about why I was working for a “weed magazine” and living in Texas. I explained as quickly as I could about my history with medical cannabis and her demeanor completely changed. She was curious and I directed her to our website and other resources as they were getting ready to vote on decriminalization in Lubbock soon. I regret to report that Lubbock rejected decriminalizing, but I was excited about the opportunity to change just one mind even a little bit, and maybe rescheduling will do that for people at a nationwide level. 

I have never considered cannabis a “gateway drug”, but perhaps rescheduling is a gateway for some to take a second look at their assumptions about cannabis. 

The Ouroboros of cannabis is that we are restricted by regulation in what kind of research we are allowed because of its current classification, but better understanding of the potential uses of cannabis could help decide regulation going forward. Moving cannabis to a Schedule III drug may rectify this by making research, especially in human trials, possible. Director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, Ziva Cooper told the Associated Press “it’s going to be really confusing for a really long time,” but that at the end of it all, research will be easier. 

Now What?

Honestly, there’s not much we can do but wait. This is a big move and could be the beginning of a whole new chapter of cannabis innovations on the horizon, but we have a long road ahead of us. As usual, this isn’t the end of progress when it comes to cannabis regulation and perception in America, but it is another step in the right direction. All I can hope is that this long and confusing process happens in a way that doesn’t disrupt the supply of necessary medicines to the patients who desperately need them, but instead opens up new possibilities for treating people with cannabis derived medicines.


What is the DEA?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a United States federal agency under the Department of Justice, established on July 1, 1973, by President Richard Nixon through Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973. Its creation merged the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) to form a single agency dedicated to combating drug smuggling and use within the U.S. It falls under the umbrella of the U.S. Justice Department.

The DEA's primary responsibilities include enforcing the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bringing to justice those involved in the illegal drug trade. This includes individuals and organizations involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the U.S.

The agency also works to reduce the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets. The DEA has the authority to conduct surveillance, seize assets, make arrests, and work closely with other law enforcement agencies domestically and internationally.

Additionally, the DEA regulates the production, distribution, and dispensing of legally produced controlled substances through the Controlled Substances Act. It also engages in community outreach and educational programs to prevent drug abuse.

With a stated mission to enforce the nation's drug laws and combat the illegal drug trade, the DEA aims to play a role in national and international efforts to control drug trafficking and abuse.

What is the FDA?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It was established in 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act, which was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. The FDA's formation was largely driven by public outcry over unsanitary practices in the food and drug industries, highlighted by Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle."

The FDA is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, the nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. The agency also regulates tobacco products and oversees the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of these products to reduce tobacco use by minors.

Key responsibilities of the FDA include Regulating Foods and Drugs, Monitoring Medical Products, Ensuring Food Safety, Regulating Cosmetics and Radiation-Emitting Products, Tobacco Regulation.

The FDA also plays a critical role during public health emergencies, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, by facilitating the development and availability of medical countermeasures. It works with other federal, state, and international agencies to ensure the safety and efficacy of these products.

Overall, the FDA's stated mission is to safeguard public health and ensure that consumers have access to accurate information about the products they use.


Related Posts

See All


Subscribe to get exclusive updates

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page