Burning cannabis rescheduling questions answered

rescheduling cannabis questions

When the DEA announced its plans to reschedule cannabis, it raised more questions than answers. Is cannabis legal now? Will the dispensary experience change? Is CVS going to be the only place to get weed? The queries go on and on.

The truth is that there are still many unknowns related to rescheduling—and it’s going to be a while before any meaningful action. The recommendation needs to be approved by White House officials, and a 60-day public comment period will take place after that. Factor in any potential court challenges, and it could be months or even years before cannabis is officially reclassified.

In the meantime, there are a few questions that can be answered. GreenState compiled some of the biggest.

RELATED: Rescheduling cannabis may have unintended consequences

Is marijuana legal nationwide?

No. If and when cannabis is moved to Schedule III, it will be considered a regulated medication. Adult-use sales and consumption would still technically be illegal under federal law.

What’s the difference between Schedule I and Schedule III?

The DEA has set five drug classifications (known as Schedules) under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Schedule I substances are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. Other Schedule I drugs include MDMA and heroin. Schedule III substances, such as Tylenol with codeine and ketamine, are defined as having “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”

Are cannabis prisoners going to get out of jail? Will criminal records be expunged?

No. DEA scheduling does not play a role in how people with cannabis convictions are sentenced, nor does it guarantee early release or expungement. Arrests for cannabis will also likely remain the status quo. Many advocacy groups are calling on the government to address these concerns.


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What are the potential benefits of Schedule III?

The cannabis industry will likely benefit more from rescheduling than consumers. It’s believed that tax bills will go down thanks to the elimination of 280E, a law that currently forbids cannabis companies from deducting standard business expenses. Previously restricted marketing lanes will open up; as it stands right now, cannabis brands are subject to social media censorship and advertising bans other industries enjoy. This will equate to boosted profits and more customers overall. 

Cannabis research and development may also increase, leading to a greater understanding of how the plant works and its therapeutic properties. Furthermore, the fact that the federal government is acknowledging that cannabis indeed has medicinal properties may inspire a societal shift that could further reduce stigmas.

Will prohibition states be forced to legalize marijuana? Will cannabis dispensaries still be open?

Probably not. Federal law and state law will likely not align when it comes to cannabis, but there are conflicting opinions on how Schedule III enforcement will play out. Howard Sklamberg, a former FDA official, said in an interview with Politico that it will likely be business as usual in states with legal weed—and the same can be assumed for prohibition states, as well.

RELATED: Does cannabis legalization make people healthier?

Can cannabis businesses engage in interstate commerce under Schedule III? Can people travel with weed?

It depends. Technically, Schedule III drugs can be transported across state lines—but only if they’re approved by the FDA. Even if cannabis is moved to Schedule III, the only cannabinoid compounds approved by the FDA are Epidiolex (a CBD-based medication for epilepsy) and Marinol (a synthetic THC drug for pain). Right now, cannabis brands (and consumers) are not allowed to ship THC products from state to state and must have individual licenses in every state they operate in.

Are consumers going to need to get prescriptions for cannabis?

Another unknown. If Sklamberg is correct, the answer is no. But current law around Schedule III substances says otherwise. Pharmacist Anthony Minniti pointed out on LinkedIn that, according to DEA regulations Schedule III drugs can only be dispensed at DEA-licensed facilities to people who have received recommendations from “qualified practitioners.” Not only that, the CSA itself says that obtaining or consuming Schedule III substances without the proper prescription is against the law.

Reclassifying cannabis will mean a lot of change for the nascent space–it’s a big deal. There are many diverging opinions on what the move actually means, with some advocates hopeful for the future and others fearful. What that change looks like remains to be seen, but advocates hope it equates to a thriving industry, wider access to the plant, and social acceptance.


rachelle gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist, Emerald Cup judge, Budist critic, and editor of GreenState.com. She began her weed writing journey in 2015 and has been featured in High Times, CannabisNow, Beard Bros, MG, Skunk, and many others. Rachelle currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Oakland; her favorite cannabis cultivars include Silver Haze and Tangie. Follow Rachelle on Instagram @rachellethewriter