The federal government first classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug back in 1970 with the Controlled Substances Act. For years, it sat alongside heroin on the same list under federal law.
Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA, has a big decision to make: Do they keep cannabis as a Schedule I drug or do they change it?
Not the first time
The decision is now in the hands of an agency that has been here before.
In 2016, during the Obama administration,the DEA was askedto review it by multiple governors. Ultimately, they sent out a press release in which it "denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana."
Of course, a lot has changed in the last seven years. Twenty-three states have now legalized it for recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Minnesota became the latest earlier this year.
Morgan Fox is the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
"It's certainly a big deal that a federal agency is finally admitting that cannabis does not belong on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act," Fox said.
Fox says the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended to the DEA a change is significant, but the recommendation that it become a Schedule III drug doesn't exactly do a lot for cannabis users.
"It would not have any sizable impact on the criminal justice aspects of prohibition and would not resolve that conflict that would really allow states to be able to pursue these programs without any fear of federal interference," Fox said.
Fox says the biggest impact would likely be on cannabis business owners who may be eligible for more tax breaks and perhaps some academic researchers. However, the schedule switch would still make it illegal at the federal level.
Fox says there are big questions if the DEA will even go through with a classification change. After all, the agency has rejected it before. It's why he believes Congress needs to step in.
"The DEA could very well take their time on this, and historically they have taken years," Fox said.
"We'd obviously like to see things moving a lot faster," Fox added.
Scripps News reached out to the DEA for perspective on how long their review might take. Officials tell Scripps News that the process is beginning now and they have nothing further to share.
At the White House, the Biden administration said it is not putting any pressure on the DEA publicly to act.
"It's going to be an independent process. They are certainly going to use the evidence," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said recently.
As for other cannabis news, Congress could reattempt in the coming weeks a separate effort to reform banking laws to give cannabis businesses more access.
Meanwhile, more votes on legalization are expected. Ohio is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall.
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