Will the DEA reschedule cannabis? Washington insiders offer clues
It’s been more than two months since the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally recommended cannabis be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III. Since then, people on all sides of the federal legalization debate have been waiting with bated breath for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to follow suit. According to Washington insiders, the change could be imminent.
Howard Sklamberg, a former official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), believes it’s only a matter of time before the DEA officially designates cannabis as Schedule III. Sklamberg previously predicted the HHS recommendation before it was announced.
“I don’t think that will take terribly long,” Sklamberg told MJBizDaily.
Sklamberg pointed to a Congressional report released in mid-September suggesting the DEA does not have the authority to disagree with the HHS opinion. The paper’s authors noted they were “unaware of any instance where DEA has rejected an FDA recommendation to reschedule.”
As a Schedule I substance, cannabis is considered a “drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and is equated to heroin and LSD. Schedule III drugs, such as ketamine and Tylenol with codeine, are deemed as having “a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”
The timeline for rescheduling will likely be impacted by the presidential election season. According to analysts quoted by MJBizDaily, the recommendation could be accepted by the DEA and take effect as early as next spring. While the move could trigger lawsuits meant to delay the switch, the U.S. Supreme Court would likely rule in the DEA’s favor.
“They’re wanting to get this done,” Sklamberg suggested. “They’ll want to have the final rule done certainly by 2024 – and probably not too late in 2024, given the political cycle.”
If moved to Schedule III, the FDA would regulate cannabis like other pharmaceuticals. It would mean marijuana businesses are no longer subject to oppressive taxation or strict banking regulations, and could open the doors to a unified market. However, the debate over whether rescheduling would be a win for the cannabis community continues to rage.
Proponents of de-scheduling, wherein cannabis would be removed from the Controlled Substances list altogether and regulated like alcohol, argue that a Schedule III designation would open the doors for Big Pharma to take over the nascent industry.
While the lack of movement on cannabis in Washington may lead some to scratch their heads, sources within the political arena say change is coming quickly. A recent decision in Georgia to sell low-potency cannabis products in pharmacies could signal a wider shift in how people buy their weed—but time will only tell.