Rescheduling cannabis may have unintended consequences, new survey shows

rescheduling cannabis

The current cannabis rescheduling review has many people wondering what’s ahead for the nascent industry. As federal officials mull the recommendation to move the plant from Schedule I to Schedule III, questions remain about what (if anything) would change in states that have already decided to legalize marijuana

Some within the cannabis industry have praised the potential switch, arguing rescheduling would help bolster the fledgling market by removing undue tax burden and increasing banking access. Others say rescheduling is not full legalization, fearing that Schedule III would simply allow the pharmaceutical industry to swoop in since substances in the category are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But how do the consumers feel? According to a new survey, rescheduling may send them back underground.

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NuggMD, a company that connects medical marijuana patients with qualifying doctors, sponsored the study. The team wanted to reveal the opinions of current cannabis consumers on the rescheduling debate. Using an opt-in email list, just under 800 people responded to the query. 

The biggest revelation? If cannabis were only available at a pharmacy (which some believe would happen if the plant were moved to Schedule III), nearly one-third of consumers would buy from the illicit market instead. 

The survey didn’t ask where consumers were currently getting their cannabis; it’s possible the people who said they would illegally obtain weed are already doing so without much fear of retribution. However, 55 percent of the respondents said they would go to the pharmacy if it were the only way to get pot legally.

A whopping 77 percent of participants said they would prefer to buy “traditional botanical cannabis products sold at legacy cannabis dispensaries” versus “FDA-approved cannabis products sold at pharmacies.” Only 18 percent wanted to pick up their weed at the local drug store—5 percent said “neither.”

Would rescheduling lead to meaningful change? Survey says…

Some Washington insiders have insisted that little would change if cannabis were to become a Schedule III substance. Howard Sklamberg, a former high-ranking FDA official, recently told Politico: “If you’re going to launch an enforcement initiative against cannabis, why would you start off with saying, ‘Oh, by the way, it’s less of a risk than we thought.’”

Survey respondents weren’t so sure. When asked how rescheduling would affect consumer access to cannabis, approximately 47 percent said nothing would change, and roughly one-quarter believe it may become easier to get weed—but 28 percent thought rescheduling would actually make it harder to obtain cannabis.

When asked if they would prefer a national market for cannabis or the continuation of separate state markets, 69 percent of respondents wanted to stick to the status quo. Roughly 27 percent would like to see a unified nationwide industry.

The poll also broke down the rescheduling vs. descheduling debate for participants. They were told that rescheduling would not remove penalties for recreational cannabis sales, while descheduling would by removing the plant entirely from the Controlled Substances Act. Upon learning this, 85 percent of participants said they prefer the government to deschedule cannabis entirely. 

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The final question centered on whether participants trusted the federal government to impose penalties on illegal sales of cannabis impartially were it to become a Schedule III drug or if racially biased enforcement would continue. Only 17 percent of respondents thought the government would take fair action, while 83 percent felt Schedule III would only be more of the same.

Deb Tharp, head of legal and policy research at NuggMD, expressed skepticism that Schedule III would change the current cannabis landscape, particularly as it relates to unfair prosecution.

“Disparate, selective enforcement based on racial profiling has been the norm for many decades. Cannabis use is ubiquitous, so any enforcement, whether under Schedule I or III, will be selective,” Tharp told GreenState via email. “I don’t believe the false reassurances that they (the government) aren’t interested in enforcing anymore. If there were no interest in continuing to enforce prohibition, then the conversation we’re having would be about descheduling the substance entirely.” 

As the cannabis community waits to see if the government will take action on reform, it’s clear there are mixed emotions on the subject. While rescheduling or descheduling would indeed bring about change, the extent remains to be seen. Given the results of the NuggMD poll, the results of rescheduling may not be what the government has in mind.


rachelle gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist, Emerald Cup judge, Budist critic, and editor of 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