The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is actively supporting the downgrading of marijuana from its current high-risk drug category, following recent scientific findings. Marijuana is presently classified under Schedule I, the group for the most hazardous controlled substances, which includes heroin.
Marijuana is presently classified under Schedule I, the group for the most hazardous controlled substances, which includes heroin. However, there's a growing possibility of it being reclassified to Schedule III, indicating a lower risk of abuse, thanks to new scientific data.
This move is backed by research from the FDA, which has submitted documentation in favor of this reclassification. This initiative traces back to 2022 when President Joe Biden instructed the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the attorney general to reassess marijuana’s federal scheduling.
In support of this shift, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, Adm. Rachel Levine, expressed her endorsement in a communication to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in August, proposing marijuana’s reclassification to Schedule III. Schedule III substances are those considered to have a moderate to low risk of physical and psychological dependence. This category includes drugs like ketamine, testosterone, and Tylenol with codeine. The FDA’s findings, publicly accessible, reflect the comprehensive analysis by the HHS of the medical and scientific data, leading to a proposal for rescheduling to the Department of Justice.
In these reports, the FDA’s Controlled Substance Staff highlights three main arguments for the suggested reclassification of marijuana. Firstly, it shows a lesser likelihood of abuse compared to drugs listed in Schedules I and II.
Secondly, its medical use for treatment in the U.S. is acknowledged. Thirdly, it carries a minimal to moderate risk of physical dependence for those misusing it. This stance is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which notes that, despite widespread nonmedical use in the U.S., marijuana does not result in as severe consequences as drugs like heroin, oxycodone, and cocaine, even with the presence of high-THC products.
Moreover, the data substantiates the medicinal benefits of marijuana in treating anorexia, pain, and nausea induced by chemotherapy. However, the researchers clarify that their findings don’t confirm the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for specific health conditions. The team also observed that withdrawal symptoms in heavy, long-term marijuana users are comparatively mild and akin to those from synthetic THC drugs like Marinol and Syndros, which are FDA-approved, unlike the more intense withdrawal experienced with alcohol.
The potential reclassification of marijuana could unlock various possibilities, such as expanding research opportunities, simplifying banking regulations for cannabis enterprises, and alleviating the tax burden imposed by a longstanding tax code on the sale of Schedule I and II drugs.
As of now, recreational cannabis is legal in 24 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia, while medical cannabis is allowed in 38 states, as per the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since Colorado’s first sale of cannabis for adult use in 2014, the industry has burgeoned into a multi-billion-dollar market, drawing attention from global corporations in various sectors.
The decision on marijuana’s scheduling ultimately rests with the DEA, which will follow a regulatory process including a public consultation phase before any decision is finalized.