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Biden administration moves to reclassify marijuana, making it legal with prescriptions

President Biden Marijuana
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images; Shutterstock

The Department of Justice has submitted a proposed rule that would reclassify how cannabis is scheduled.

Cwnewser

President Joe Biden’s administration is changing how the federal government views marijuana. The Department of Justice has taken a historic step in cannabis reform, submitting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Office of the Federal Register on Thursday. The NPRM proposes reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug, aligning with Biden’s directive in 2022 for a thorough review of marijuana’s scheduling.

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Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug alongside substances like heroin, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. This classification places marijuana higher than fentanyl and methamphetamine, the primary drivers of the ongoing overdose epidemic. Reclassifying marijuana to Schedule III would acknowledge its accepted medical uses and lower potential for abuse.

What are Schedule III drugs

Schedule III drugs are substances that have a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. These drugs are considered to have accepted medical uses in the United States. Some examples of Schedule III substances include anabolic steroids, used for muscle growth and to treat hormonal issues; ketamine, an anesthetic that can also be used to treat depression and pain; and testosterone, used for hormone therapy. Reclassifying marijuana to Schedule III would place it in the same category as these substances, recognizing its medical value and reducing the legal restrictions associated with its use.

“This is monumental,” Biden said in a video released by the White House. “Today, my administration took a major step to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. It’s an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.” The NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register will kick off a 60-day public comment period. The DEA Administrator may assign an Administrative Law Judge to review the evidence and make a final scheduling recommendation. The DOJ will then issue the final determination and publish it in the Federal Register.

Historic actions on marijuana reform

Data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest that substance use patterns reported by LGBTQ+ adults differ from those reported by heterosexual adults. Approximately 41 percent of LGBTQ+ adults aged 18 and older reported past-year marijuana use, compared to 18.7 percent of the overall adult population. Almost seven percent of LGBTQ+ adults in 2020 misused opioids (prescription opioids or heroin) in the past year, compared to 3.6 percent of the overall adult population.

Biden has been a vocal advocate for marijuana policy reform, asserting that no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana.

These policies have disproportionately affected Black and brown communities despite similar usage rates across racial groups.

“In 2022, President Biden called on the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to review how marijuana is scheduled as part of his Administration’s historic work on marijuana reform,” a senior administration official said. “DOJ and HHS led that process, guided by science and evidence, to determine how marijuana should be scheduled.”

Biden has taken several notable actions to address the disparities. In an October 6, 2022 proclamation, Biden granted a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana.

On December 22, 2023, Biden extended this pardon to include offenses of attempted simple possession and use of marijuana. “My intent by this proclamation is to pardon only the offenses of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana in violation of Federal and D.C. laws,” Biden said, emphasizing that the pardon does not apply to other controlled substance offenses or activities beyond simple possession.

'No one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana.'

Reclassifying marijuana is viewed as a critical step in rectifying the long-term impacts of the war on drugs, which has disproportionately affected minority communities. “Look, folks, no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana. Period,” Biden said in his video message. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it,” he added.

In 24 states, recreational marijuana use is legal and in 17 medical marijuana is legal.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).