US health officials recommend reclassifying marijuana as a lower-risk drug.

US health officials recommend reclassifying marijuana as a lower-risk drug.

U.S. Health Department Pushes for Marijuana Reclassification

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made a bold move by requesting the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to reclassify marijuana, with the aim of expanding acceptance of the drug. While this would not result in marijuana being legalized, it could potentially move it from its current Schedule I classification to Schedule III. Schedule I drugs are considered to carry a high risk of abuse, including LSD, ecstasy, and heroin, while Schedule III drugs can be obtained with a prescription.

This request for reclassification follows President Joe Biden’s previous initiatives to ease marijuana penalties. In October of last year, Biden pardoned all prior simple possession offenses charged federally and urged states to do the same. At that time, he also called for a review of marijuana scheduling, its medical use, potential for abuse and dependence, and overall safety.

Cannabis advocates have long argued for the rescheduling of marijuana, asserting that it would acknowledge the drug’s legitimate uses. About 18% of Americans reportedly used cannabis at least once in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Edward Conklin, executive director of the U.S. Cannabis Council, expressed relief at the prospect of closing the chapter on marijuana being grouped alongside heroin, stating, “Thankfully, that era is coming to a close and is being replaced by a modern and scientific approach to regulating this plant.”

The HHS’s recommendation for reclassification is based on a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which considered eight factors in determining whether such a change was warranted. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine revealed that the National Institute on Drug Abuse agreed with the FDA’s recommendation.

This development has been met with enthusiasm from those involved in the cannabis industry. Bryan Barash, co-chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform, described it as “a huge day for the cannabis industry” and expressed hope that the federal government would follow through on the recommendation.

However, not everyone is convinced that this step adequately addresses the disconnect between federal and state laws regarding marijuana. The CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, believes that the reclassification “does nothing to align federal law” with that of individual states. Smith advocates for the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, suggesting that it should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.

While the debate surrounding marijuana legalization continues, the HHS’s request for reclassification is a significant milestone. It reflects a growing recognition that the current legal framework for the drug may not adequately reflect its potential benefits or align with evolving societal attitudes. As the DEA begins its review, the outcome will shape the future trajectory of marijuana’s status in the United States.

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